Disney March B.O. master

'House' is frame's $100 million plus grosser

In a month fraught with box office fatigue, Disney brought down the March crown with a take of $157 million.

Overall, total receipts for the frame of Feb. 28-March 30 rang up $649 million, 15% off last year’s March high of $768 million. Even with the ticket sales downturn, last month was the second-best March ever.

While the war in Iraq clearly diminished the month’s receipts, the dearth of breakout artistic and marketing successes among the month’s 37 new releases (the same as in 2002) had to be a factor as well.

Also working against studio pics last month was the lack of moppets on spring break. Last March, the Easter fell on the last weekend of the month. Consequently, distribs are expecting a better-than-average April and are programming their spring slates around the April 18 holiday weekend when more than 80% of the public schools will be taking off that Friday.

Firm foundation

While “Bringing Down the House” took the place of last March’s “Ice Age” as the frame’s $100 million plus grosser, the laffer’s pace at the wickets has been slower than the Fox CGI pic.

However, Mouse House distrib topper Chuck Viane explains that the slow and steady arch of “House” is not unusual for mainstream comedies. Disney built awareness for “House” by sneaking the pic two weeks before its bow date — a plan that has contributed to the pic’s legs.

“It’s not unusual for a comedy to get into the consciousness of the moviegoer,” Viane said. “Any time of year is the time for a comedy. We started this type of marketing during March 1990 with ‘Pretty Woman.’ ”

The top 10 pics in March: Disney’s “Bringing Down the House,” $100 million; Miramax’s “Chicago,” $48 million; DreamWorks’ “Old School,” $47 million; Sony-Revolution’s “Tears of the Sun,” $41 million; MGM’s “Agent Cody Banks,” $35 million; Warner Bros.’ “Cradle 2 the Grave,” $34 million; Par’s “How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days,” $33.6 million; Par’s “The Hunted,” $29 million; Fox’s “Daredevil,” $26 million; and Warner Bros.’ “Dreamcatcher,” $25.4 million.

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