Horror pic garners $12.5 mil in bow

Sony/Revolution’s “Darkness Falls,” a horror pic about a town of the same name, scared up an estimated $12.5 million in opening grosses to top the weekend box office.

Warner Bros./Castle Rock’s family laffer “Kangaroo Jack” hopped to the runner-up slot on a skimpy 28% soph-sesh drop to $11.9 million. Miramax musical “Chicago” was third, kicking up an $8.5 million from only 616 playdates a week after triple Golden Globes kudos.

Distrib’s quirky “Confessions of a Dangerous Mind” proved unthreatening in its first sesh in wide release with just $6 million in eighth place.

Several other specialty pics staged notable expansions this sesh.

New Line’s Jack Nicholson starrer “About Schmidt” added 290 runs for a total 1,236 and grossed an estimated $5.5 million in ninth place. Cume on the critically lauded Alexander Payne-helmed drama reached $37.9 million through seven frames of platformed release.

Paramount broadened its lit adaptation “The Hours” by 100 playdates for a total 502 and grossed $4 million. That brings cume for the Stephen Daldry-directed kudos magnet to $13.9 million through five frames.

Miramax’s gritty Brazilian actioner “City of God” added 13 theaters for a total 18 and grossed an estimated $179,000. Perf repped a solid $9,944 per venue, with a $334,660 cume.

Distrib’s Oz drama “Rabbit-Proof Fence” added 24 playdates for a total 118 and grossed $288,000. That was a thin $2,441 per engagement but stretched cume to almost $3 million.

Sony Classics expanded Pedro Almodovar’s “Talk to Her” by 16 locations to a total 82 and grossed $380,989, or an acceptable $4,646 per site with a $3.9 million cume.

Distrib also bowed its “Blind Spot: Hitler’s Secretary” docu in a single Gotham location and grossed a strong $10,237.

Rialto suspenser “Le Cercle Rouge” held in a single Gotham site to gross an impressive $13,000 with a $71,094 cume.

Previously this week, MacGillivray Freeman’s giant-screen docu “Everest” — first unspooled in 1998 — became the highest-grossing docu of all time with more than $120.6 million in worldwide B.O. ($85.4 million domestic).

Perf eclipsed the previous best-docu mark of 1976 MacGillivray Freeman giant-screener “To Fly!” Weekend grosses for the pics — also the top all-time grossers among large-format films — weren’t immediately available.

Industrywide, Super Bowl weekend marked a 23% B.O. decline from the fourth weekend in January 2002 with $101 million in estimated total grosses, according to B.O. tracker Nielsen EDI. Falloff was largely due to a comparison with a non-Super Bowl weekend a year ago, when the pro football championship was skedded one week later.

Year-to-date, 2003 is off 29% from a similar portion of last year with $462.8 million in total grosses — mostly because the year-ago span included one more B.O. weekend.

Soft sophs

Other than “Jack,” soph seshers marked sizable drops this weekend.

Sony’s Martin Lawrence laffer “National Security” fell 49% in its second weekend to $7.4 million in fifth place. And MGM romancer “A Guy Thing” was off 53% at $3.3 million, falling from the top 10.

Bright perf by modestly budgeted “Darkness” was helped by “PG-13″ rating, “which made it accessible,” Sony distrib prexy Rory Bruer said.

Revolution partner Tom Sherak said he was “thrilled” with results of mini-major’s first foray into genre fare. Sherak’s son, William, was among pic producers along with John Fasano, John Hegeman and Jason Shuman.

“He spent the whole day Saturday phoning people to thank them — his mother raised him right,” the elder Sherak quipped.

Miramax chief operating officer Rick Sands said “Chicago” appears a big burgeoning success, even though it’s barely hit wide release at 616 playdates. Distrib doesn’t plan another major expansion of the pic until the weekend before Oscar noms are announced Feb. 11.

” ‘Chicago’ is a monster,” Sands enthused.

‘Chicago’ gets female aud

Distrib believes “Chicago” will be hurt less than more male-oriented pics by competish from Super Bowl telecasts, he said.

“Sunday is generally down for the male-oriented pictures, but the women still go (to the movies),” Sands said.

He added that the musical drew “very good” responses in exit surveys following 500 sneak previews staged this weekend in markets where it’s yet to open.

The sneaks were held late Saturday afternoon and Sunday night, mostly dovetailing with showtimes for “Confessions” and thus boosting that film’s grosses a bit.

Sands said he was “happy” with the weekend perf of “Confessions.” Production costs were only about $30 million, and Miramax reduced its exposure by selling off foreign rights, he noted.

“It would have been nice to open (in wide release) above No. 8,” Sands acknowledged.

Meanwhile, Disney offered an unspecified number of sneak previews this weekend on its Jackie Chan actioner “Shanghai Knights” and attracted 89% capacity auds. Mouse said exit surveys drew “excellent” or “very good” responses from 90% of patrons.

Two wide releases are set for next weekend. Disney marches out Al Pacino-Colin Farrell starrer “The Recruit,” and DreamWorks’ revs up “Biker Boyz,” an actioner with topliners including Laurence Fishburne and Derek Luke (“Antwone Fisher”).

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