Fox ‘Phone’ call collects cash

Farrell starrer goes from on hold to No. 1

This article was updated at 6:30 p.m.

20th Century Fox thriller “Phone Booth” dialed up a weekend-topping $15 million in estimated opening grosses after being put on call-waiting by last fall’s East Coast sniper crisis.

Warner Bros./Gaylord’s young-femmes drama “What a Girl Wants” was runner-up with a $12.1 million debut, while New Line’s Vin Diesel actioner “A Man Apart” bowed with $11.2 million in third place. And Miramax/Dimension laffer “Dysfunktional Family” grossed an estimated $1.1 million from a barely wide 602 theaters to land outside the top 10.

Winning “Phone Booth” bow signals topliner Farrell’s clear arrival as a marquee attraction of note.

Farrell and the Joel Schumacher-helmed thriller had to overcome not just rival hunk Diesel and other bowing pics but also the disadvantage of a bifurcated marketing campaign. “Phone Booth” was pulled from its original Nov. 15 slotting when a series of sniper shootings killed 13 people in the Washington, D.C., area. That made for a too-real backdrop to the pic, in which Farrell’s character is pinned down in a Manhattan phone booth by a sniper.

Streamlined shoot in L.A. and Gotham allowed “Phone Booth” to wrap in under two weeks. Negative costs are estimated at a measly $12 million-$13 million, though marketing costs were inflated by need to promote pic twice.

Nation’s preoccupation with the war repped yet another disadvantage for the film, Fox distrib prexy Bruce Snyder said. Weekend grosses in the Toronto area were depressed due to recent fall-out in that market from the ongoing SARS virus scare, he added.

“Phone Booth” drew auds evenly split between males and femmes, with 55% of patrons under age 25.

Industrywide, the weekend repped another lackluster sesh.

Frame marked a 10% downtick from the same frame a year ago at $100 million in total estimated grosses, according to B.O. tracker Nielsen EDI. Latest sesh was off almost 4% from the preceding under-whelming weekend.

The market has appeared depressed ever since the start of the Iraq war almost three weeks ago, with relatively low-profile pics doing little to stir cocooning Americans. But all that could change next weekend when Sony/Revolution unspools highly anticipated laffer “Anger Management.” Frame’s only wide release, Adam Sandler-Jack Nicholson starrer is tracking strongly and could open north of $40 million.

Auds catch “Thief”

Several pics opened in limited release this weekend.

Fox Searchlight’s Nick Nolte starrer “The Good Thief” grossed an estimated $137,626 from nine theaters in Gotham, L.A. and Toronto, or a laudable $15,292 per venue. Cume hit $159,000 on Wednesday bow; pic expands to more than 50 sites next weekend.

Destination/Goldwyn’s anime tooner “Cowboy Bebop” unspooled in 19 locations in 13 markets and grossed $247,000, or an impressive $13,000 per run. “Bebop” rides into new cities in two weeks.

Sony Classics opened Billy Bob Thornton drama “Levity” in 10 L.A. and Gotham locations and grossed $32,866, or $3,287 per site. Distrib also unspooled Finnish laffer “The Man Without a Past” in a pair of Gotham venues and grossed $25,287, a nifty $12,644 per run.

Elsewhere in the specialty market, Searchlight’s femme-soccer drama “Bend It Like Beckham” added 117 playdates and grossed $1.2 million, or a solid $10,043 per engagement with a $2.6 million cume.

Miramax’s Brazilian actioner “City of God” added 11 theaters for a total 90 and grossed $135,000, or just $1,500 per venue with a $3.3 million cume.

Goldwyn/Fireworks drama “Raising Victor Vargas” added two Gotham venues for a total four and grossed $48,000, a notable $12,000 per location with a $95,865 cume.

“Nowhere in Africa,” Zeitgeist’s Oscar-winning foreign-language film, added nine runs for a total 42 and grossed $294,000, or a sturdy $7,000 per location with a $1.1 million cume.

And United Artists’ Robert Duvall starrer “Assassination Tango” added 15 theaters for a total 22 and grossed $121,000, or $5,482 per venue with a $211,000 cume.

Chris Rock-helmed “Head of State,” which he also toplines along with Bernie Mac, proved the strongest of three wide releases marking soph seshes. DreamWorks laffer fell just 35% from its opening gross to $8.8 million in fourth place.

Paramount scifier “The Core” tumbled 48% to $6.3 million in sixth place. And Sony’s military-themed thriller “Basic” dropped 53% to $5.4 million in seventh place.

“Girl” power

“What a Girl Wants” bow repped a personal best for topliner Amanda Bynes, topping last February’s $11.5 million opening for “Big Fat Liar.” Some 70% of patrons were femmes with 62% under age 25.

Warners distrib boss Dan Fellman said exit surveys show the pic — helmed by Dennie Gordon (“Joe Dirt”) — “played extremely well no matter what the audience was.”

Fellman said he was pleased with the opening of the pic, whose negative cost is estimated at $21 million-$29 million.

New Line spokesman John Smith said the debut for “A Man Apart” was in line with expectations, with pic’s “R” rating reining in potential a bit. Negative cost on F. Gary Gray-helmed actioner was estimated in the low- to mid-$30 millions.

The relatively low number of playdates for Eddie Griffin-toplined “Dysfunktional Family” reflected distrib’s limited expectations. George Gallo-helmed pic targeted an urban base.

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