MGM takes $21 mil off top with urban laffer

MGM’s “Barbershop” worked moviegoers into a lather this weekend, as urban laffer rung up a box office-topping $21 million in estimated opening grosses.

“Barbershop” polled strongest from target demo in one of the best urban bows ever. But energetic marketing keying on an amiable ensemble cast aims to pull in customers of all stripes in future frames amid early signs of broader appeal.

Pic’s perf was almost twice that of the frame’s No. 2 finisher — the little shaver that could, “My Big Fat Greek Wedding.” Ethnic laffer added $11 million to its gift satchel over an amazing 22nd sesh in release, boosting cume to $110.7 million.

In a boffo limited bow, United Artists’ laffer “Igby Goes Down” grossed an estimated $319,000 from 10 L.A. and Gotham venues, an impressive $31,918 per venue. “Igby” ignites 100 locations beginning Friday.

Fox Searchlight developed Robin Williams suspenser “One Hour Photo” in wide release for the first time this weekend, grabbing third place with an estimated $7.7 million. And Sony/Revolution’s wide opener “Stealing Harvard,” a Tom Green-toplined laffer, earned $6.3 million in fourth.

Industrywide, the weekend’s $81.5 million in total estimated grosses repped a 23% uptick from the same frame a year ago, according to data from B.O. tracker Nielsen EDI. That marked the first year-over-year weekend improvement in nine frames.

Year-to-date, 2002 is 12% ahead of the same portion of last year with $6.47 billion in total estimated grosses.

20th Century Fox soph-sesher “Swimfan” — whose producers and co-financers included Greenestreet, Further Films and Cobalt — dropped 46% from its opening to $6.1 million in fifth place. And Warner Bros./Franchise’s Robert De Niro starrer “City by the Sea” was off 47% in its second weekend, finishing with $4.8 million in seventh.

Disney’s “Signs” suspenser harvested sixth place in its seventh frame with another $5.3 million. That etched cume of $212.9 million for M. Night Shyamalan’s Mel Gibson starrer.

Attractive, youthful “Igby” cast includes includes Ryan Phillippe and Claire Danes, with Kieran Culkin in title role as rebellious youth Igby Slocumb. L.A. engagements were also strong — giving long-suffering MGM/UA a second reason to smile this “Barbershop” weekend.

Marco Weber of Atlantic Streamline, which financed “Igby” and co-produced pic with UA, said “Igby” will be expanded cautiously despite early success

“The first weekend is clearly beyond everybody’s expectations,” said Weber, CEO of the L.A. production shingle. “But we want to roll out the movie very carefully.”

He estimated production costs at $8 million-$10 million.

Elsewhere in the specialty market, Paramount Classics upped “Mostly Martha” by three playdates for a total 101 and grossed $407,621, or $4,036 per engagement. Perf lifted German-language laffer’s cume to $1.7 million.

And Thinkfilm drama “The Last Kiss” added six theaters for a total 24 in grossing $119,208, or $4,967 per venue with a $437,847 cume.

MGM marketing prexy Peter Adee said the opening perf of “Barbershop” has mostly urban auds to thank.

“There was some crossover, but not in tremendous amounts,” Adee said. “We’re hoping for more crossover this coming weekend.”

Laffer will compete with four pics bowing in wide release on Friday, but none of obvious audience overlap. Paramount opens adventure remake “Four Feathers,” starring Heath Ledger; Sony unleases “Trapped,” a Charlize Theron-Kevin Bacon thriller; Fox Searchlight debuts “The Banger Sisters,” a laffer targeting older femmes; and Warners unspools youth-oriented actioner “Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever.”

Adee added that “Barbershop” –directed by tyro helmer Tim Story — makes the most of its character-driven script, penned by Mark Brow, Don D. Scott and Marshall Todd.

“You get to know every character in that movie, and that’s quite a feat,” he said.

Best opener for Ice Cube

Topliner Ice Cube marked a personal best with the “Barbershop” bow, outdistancing the $16.9 million opening of January 2000’s “Next Friday.”

“I’ve always tried to be associated with good movies, and it seems like the movie-going public is starting to realize that,” he told Daily Variety.

Ice Cube, who was filming Warners’ motorcycle actioner “Torque” in downtown L.A. on Sunday, lauded his fellow cast members on “Barbershop.” He called perf by pic’s Cedric the Entertainer “magic” and suggested “Barbershop” has worked a neat trick for everyone involved.

“For a movie that cost like $12 million to make to gross more than $20 million in its opening weekend — that just puts smiles on everyone’s face,” he beamed. “Now, it’s all about word of mouth.”

“Greek Wedding” used word of mouth to good advantage this weekend in managing a 6% improvement in weekend-to-weekend B.O. That kind of climb is virtually unheard of so late in a release arc and had producers waxing rhapsodic about pic’s legs.

“It’s apparent now that this movie is going to become the highest-grossing independent picture of all time,” said Gary Goetzman of “Wedding” co-producer Playtone.

To do so, laffer will have to exceed the $140.5 million rung up domestically by Artisan’s 1999 sci-fi phenom “The Blair Witch Project.”

“One Hour Photo” expanded this weekend to 1,212 engagements from a previous 173. Fox Searchlight plans to hold steady at that level next weekend.

Sony/Revolution execs expressed satisfaction with quiet opening perf by “Stealing Harvard,” which in addition to Green stars Jason Lee, Dennis Farina and Megan Mullally (“Will and Grace”).

“We’re gong to be just fine with this film,” Sony spokesman Steve Elzer said. “It was made modestly and marketed very efficiently.”

Pic’s negative costs are estimated in the low- to mid-$20s.

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