'Passion' holds firm in third week; 'Window' opens at No. 2

This article was updated at 2:49 p.m.

Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ” has pulled off a three-peat atop the weekend box office, as the Newmarket-distribbed religious drama grossed an estimated $31.7 million to boost its domestic cume to $264 million.

Sony’s Johnny Depp-toplined suspenser “Secret Window” opened well with $19 million in second place, while MGM’s family sequel “Agent Cody Banks: Destination London” debuted in fifth with $8 million. Warner Bros./Franchise thriller “Spartan” grossed $2 million in 10th place on a barely wide bow of 832 engagements.

Industrywide, the weekend repped a 10% uptick from the same frame a year ago with $117 million in total estimated grosses, according to B.O. tracker Nielsen EDI.

Year-to-date, 2004 is almost 4% ahead of the same portion of last year at $1.57 billion.

Imax pic’s speedy start

Among this weekend’s limited bows, Warners debuted its large-format auto racing docu “NASCAR: The Imax Experience” in 68 venues and grossed an estimated $1.5 million. That repped an impressive $22,060 per venue and marked the best opening ever for an originally produced Imax movie.

ThinkFilm unspooled its “Wilbur Wants to Kill Himself” in a pair of Gotham theaters and grossed an estimated $15,238. That was a solid $7,619 per venue, with the black comedy set for an L.A. expansion March 26.

Sony Classics bowed Israeli drama “Broken Wings” in five Gotham and L.A. locations to gross an estimated $27,679, or a sturdy $5,536 per site.

Distrib also expanded its laffer “Good Bye, Lenin!” by 10 theaters for a total 16 and grossed $122,258, or a notable $7,641 per venue with a $296,217 cume.

And its drama “Monsieur Ibrahim” added 20 runs for a total 49 in grossing $232,001, a winning $4,735 per site with a $657,816 cume.

Elsewhere in the specialty market, Newmarket’s “Monster” continues to maintain notable market traction following Charlize Theron’s Oscar win with $1.3 million from 1,012 engagements, or an impressive $13,022 per playdate, with a $32.1 million cume.

IFC Films’ mountain-climbing docu “Touching the Void” added 22 theaters for a total 137 and grossed an estimated $333,000, or $2,430 per venue, with a $2.6 million cume.

United Artists added 12 engagements for Afghanistan drama “Osama” to gross $105,000, or $3,894 per venue, with a $646,000 cume.

Treading ‘Rings’ path

“The Passion” is the first pic since “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” to reign over successive B.O. frames.

“Return of the King” ruled the roost over the two final 2003 sessions and the first weekend of the New Year. And much like that pic, “Passion” has managed its feat by playing to a broad array of demos and securing substantial repeat biz.

“Secret Window” failed to mark a significant date-night uptick Saturday, largely owing to pic’s skewing toward young femmes, who tend to hit theaters Friday night. Some 55% of patrons were female and 51% under age 25.

“The $19 million is a good number for us,” Sony distribution prexy Rory Bruer said. “It’s certainly what we were hoping for.”

Debut for the “Cody Banks” sequel disappointed MGM execs.

“We were hoping to get into the double-digit millions,” said Erik Lomis, Lion’s distribution topper.

‘Inexpensive’

But Lomis added that pic’s production cost — estimated at under $30 million — was “inexpensive.”

“Destination London” drew 88% family patrons, with parents skewing 60% femme and kids 55% male. The first “Cody Banks” pic opened in March 2003 with $14.1 million and rung up a total $47.8 million domestically.

Warners was just the distrib on Franchise-produced “Spartan,” whose best hopes could lie in the longer haul, said Warners distribution boss Dan Fellman.

“The picture performed well in markets where there were good reviews,” he said.

For instance, pic played better in Gotham, where it drew generally favorable notices, than in L.A., where it did not, he noted.

Looking to next weekend, three pics open in wide release. Headed into that frame, it appears the big question is whether “Passion” can managed a fourth No. 1 perf — which its continued solid grosses would suggest is well within reach unless one of the openers can ring up at least $20 million or more.

Focus Features unspools Jim Carrey starrer “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” Universal bows horror remake “Dawn of the Dead” and Warners debuts Angelina Jolie suspenser “Taking Lives.”

Some 600 sneak previews of “Lives” drew “good reaction” and 75% capacity auds on Saturday, Warners’ Fellman said.

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