Disney parlays ride stuff

'Pirates' walks $46 mil plank to B.O. bank

Disney’s “Pirates” made off with double the box office booty of 20th Century Fox’s “Gentlemen,” as the family-targeted swashbuckler captured the weekend flag with an estimated $46.4 million.

“Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl,” based on a Disneyland ride, hauled in an estimated $70.4 million since bowing Wednesday. Helmed by Gore Verbinksi and produced by Jerry Bruckheimer, “Pirates” stars crix darling Johnny Depp and teen heartthrob Orlando Bloom.

Sean Connery starrer “League of Extraordinary Gentlemen” opened Friday and finished No. 2 on the weekend with a solid $23.3 million despite decidedly ordinary reviews. Some 63% of its patrons were over 25, a notable distinction from the broadly appealing “Pirates.”

Warner Bros.-distribbed “Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines” was third on the frame with $19.6 million, or a sizeable soph-sesh drop of 55%. But decline could have been worse with all the “Pirates” interest, and 12-day cume for the Arnold Schwarzenegger sequel reached $110.5 mil.

MGM soph-sesher “Legally Blonde 2” grossed $12 million after a 46% fall from opening grosses. Fourth-place perf saw Reese Witherspoon sequel move 10-day cume to $62.9 million.

Frame’s wide openers helped industrywide B.O. halt a recent series of year-over-year weekend declines, with sesh’s $143 million in total estimated grosses just matching B.O. from the same weekend of last year. So far, summer is off 2% from a year ago, according to data from B.O. tracker Nielsen EDI. And year-to-date, 2003 is down 4% from a comparable portion of last year.

“Pirates” gave Disney’s its biggest-ever July opening, topping the $36.1 million bow for “Armegeddon” in 1998. Topliner and helmer also notched new personal bests, with Depp exceeding his $30.1 million bow with 1999’s “Sleepy Hollow” and Verbinski the $20.1 million opening of 2001’s “The Mexican.”

“There are a lot of people in this business who thought you couldn’t do a successful pirates movie,” Mouse’s distrib boss Chuck Viane observed. “(But) every now and then you get a piece of original programming.”

“Pirates” unspooled on a Wednesday to build word-of-mouth for its first weekend. Pic’s $17.5 million Saturday haul — the biggest gross of the five-day run — proves the strategy paid off, Viane said.

“Gentlemen” managed to outpace pessimistic pre-release projections, in part due to promo contributions of its 72-year-old topliner.

“Sean Connery is extraordinary,” Fox distrib prexy Bruce Snyder said. “This opening is everything we could have hoped for.”

Of course, there was a time when execs hoped “Gentlemen” would do well enough to warrant a sequel, but there’s little talk of that now.

In an impressive limited bow this weekend, Paramount Classics unspooled the Polish brothers’ “Northfork” in five theaters in Gotham, L.A. and Chicago, grossing an estimated $61,324, or $12,273 per venue.

Distrib hopes drama — starring James Woods, Nick Nolte and Claire Forlani — has commercial crossover prospects.

“Interestingly enough, the movie is playing to a wide array of people, and that bodes well as we start to expand around the country,” Par Classics’ David Dinerstein said.

Pic adds theaters in San Francisco, Toronto, Boston and Washington, D.C, on Friday.

Goldwyn/IDP’s Brit romancer “I Captured the Castle” opened in eight Gotham and L.A. locations and grossed an estimated $52,000 — a sturdy $6,500 per site. “Castle” storms other top-10 markets Friday.

Palm Pictures’ romancer “The Housekeeper” debuted with six Gotham and L.A. playdates and grossed an estimated $43,350 for a solid $7,225 per engagement. Pic looks to tidy up further with an expansion set for July 25.

Sony Classics bowed “Cuckoo” — a drama set in the closing days of World War II — in a half-dozen Gotham and L.A. theaters and grossed $17,209, or $2,868 per venue.

Distrib also expanded its “Winged Migration” docu by 15 playdates for a total 123 and grossed $418,437, or $3,402 per engagement with a $5.3 million cume.

Newmarket drama “Whale Rider” added 62 theaters for a total 271 and grossed $1.1 million, or $4,131 per venue with a $5.8 million cume. “Whale” rides into 450 locations Friday.

Thinkfilm docu “Spellbound” expanded into six more sites for a total 117 and grossed $335,382, or $2,867 per venue with a $3.7 million cume.

Magnolia docu “Capturing the Friedmans” broadened by four theaters for a total 74 and grossed $215,000, or $2,905 per venue with a $1.9 million cume.

Focus Features’ suspenser “Swimming Pool” added 52 locations for a total 65 and grossed $705,143. Perf repped a solid $10,848 per venue and stroked cume to $1.2 million cume.

Miramax’s French romancer “Jet Lag” added one playdate for a total of 22 and grossed $50,000, or $2,273 per engagement with a $338,846 cume.

Looking to next week, two new wide openers get added to the busy marketplace.

Those include yet another action sequel — Sony’s “Bad Boys 2,” another Bruckheimer production helmed by Michael Bay (“Pearl Harbor”). Universal/Working Title also launches “Johnny English,” a James Bond spoof starring Rowan Atkinson that’s already rung up $100 million in foreign B.O.

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