'Smoochy' limps to 7th

“The Panic Room” was sizzling as Sony’s thriller, starring Jodie Foster, debuted with $30.2 million, setting a record for an Easter weekend opener and helping make the frame the biggest Easter weekend ever.

According to ACNielsen EDI, the weekend tally was $133 million — close to last weekend’s $135.6 million take, but a buoyant contrast with the $86 million-$91.5 million range of the last five Easter seshes.

Also showing significant heat was the weekend’s No. 2 pic, Fox’s “Ice Age,” which melted $18.6 million in its third sesh. Disney’s “The Rookie,” with $15.8 million, edged out New Line’s “Blade II” with $13.2 million in its second inning, down 59%, thanks in part to the strong pull of NCAA basketball Final Four games Saturday.

But the holiday weekend’s real bummer news came for Warner Bros., as audiences gave a kiss-off to Smoochy: Debuting in seventh place, “Death to Smoochy” eked out only $4.3 million.

Par’s debut of sci-fi fantasy “Clockstoppers” landed in fifth with a solid $10.1 million amid studio hopes that pic will follow the pattern of other Nickelodeon-produced fare and gross four to five times its opening weekend. “Clockstoppers” and the ongoing power of “Ice Age” likely led to a less than starry second weekend for Universal’s revamped “E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial,” with $6.1 million, as the 20th-anni edition fell 57%.

U’s “A Beautiful Mind” was the only Oscar winner to crack the top 10 with $4 million (see separate story), beating Par’s “We Were Soldiers” and Warner’s “Showtime” for the No. 8 slot.

With five pics above $10 million, the frame’s take was up an impressive 37% from the same three-day sesh last year. The performance capped a powerful first quarter with a take estimated at $2.03 billion, up 13% from 2001.

“Panic Room” easily topped the $27.8 million Easter opening for 1999’s “The Matrix.” It also repped by far the best start for a Foster starrer, topping “Contact’s” $20.6 million in 1997.

‘Panic’ spreads

Jeff Blake, Sony’s distrib chief, pointed to the demos for “Room” skewing wide with 60% of auds over 25 and equal numbers of male and female patrons. “We delivered exactly what we promised — an exciting, quality film,” he said.

Family-oriented pics remained impressive in early spring biz, with many moviegoers on vacation or celebrating holidays. “Ice Age” continued to mimic last spring’s surprise success of “Spy Kids,” while true-life baseball drama “The Rookie” eclipsed by $2 million the record for a baseball film debut set in 1992 by “A League of Their Own.” Disney distrib exec Chuck Viane cited the benefit of sneaks two weeks ago and extensive promo work by star Dennis Quaid to build word of mouth on “Rookie.”

Viane also predicted strong legs similar to those of Disney dramas such as “Remember the Titans” and “Mr. Holland’s Opus.” “Titans” opened in September 2000 with $20.9 million on its way to a $115 million take.

Despite the dark comedy’s arsenal of Danny DeVito, Edward Norton and Robin Williams, “Smoochy” failed to ignite B.O. interest. “We are disappointed, but we are hoping that we can build on positive word from those who saw it,” Warner’s Dan Fellman said.

Auds remember ‘Mama’

On the arthouse circuit, IFC’s unrated Spanish-language pic “Y Tu Mama Tambien” continued to post solid numbers with $350,039 at 51 playdates, lifting its cume to $1.6 million; another 140 screens are planned for Friday. Fox Searchlight’s “Kissing Jessica Stein” also remained impressive with $710,000 at 131 engagements, pushing its total to $2 million.

MGM opened Hal Hartley’s “No Such Thing” to moderate biz of $29,000 at nine locations, while ThinkFilm’s drama “Time Out” took in $24,000 at a pair of Gotham sites.

Artisan held sneaks at 700 locations on Saturday for campus comedy “National Lampoon’s Van Wilder” and reported 75%-90% capacity and “definite recommend” from 70% of viewers. “Wilder” will open at about 2,000 playdates on Friday against Fox/New Regency’s drama “High Crimes” and Disney’s caper comedy “Big Trouble.”

“We had an exceptional first quarter and it should continue in the second,” said ACNielsen EDI VP Dan Marks, citing such upcoming tentpole entries as Sony’s “Spider-Man” and Fox’s “Star Wars: Episode II — Attack of the Clones.”

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