Smith appeal helps 'Robot' tool up $52.3 mil opening

This article was updated at 7:05 p.m.

Never bet against Will Smith if the calendar says July.

With an already healthy list of monster openings in the month, Smith set a career best with “I, Robot,” which drew $52.3 million in its debut, if 20th Century Fox’s estimates hold. Total nudges just past Smith’s previous record, the $52.1 million opening for “Men in Black II” in 2002.

“Robot,” inspired by Isaac Asimov’s sci-fi stories, debuted in 3,420 theaters.

Frame’s other new pic, Warner Bros.’ Hilary Duff starrer “A Cinderella Story,” opened with $13.8 million, attracting an aud primarily made up of girls under 12. Pic was counterprogrammed in 2,625 theaters.

Among the weekend’s sophomores, Will Ferrell laffer “Anchorman” picked up another $13.4 million from 3,104 cinemas, down 53% from its opening weekend. Cume is now $56.5 million.

There was no knight in shining armor for Walt Disney’s “King Arthur” in its second weekend. After a disappointing opening last week, “Arthur” reported $6.9 million from 3,086 bookings over the frame, down 54% from its bow. Cume is $37.9 million.

Medieval epic, which cost well north of $100 million, now will be lucky to pass $50 million in domestic box office. The Mouse House’s next chance to get out of its 2004 film slump is M. Night Shyamalan thriller “The Village,” which opens July 30.

Faring worse, though, was MGM’s “Sleepover,” which plummeted 74% in its second week to $1.1 million. With “A Cinderella Story” dominating the market for young femmes, “Sleepover” averaged just $498 at its 2,207 locations. But with a cume of $8 million and budget just north of $10 million, pic’s perf doesn’t carry as much of an implication for MGM’s bottom line as “Arthur’s” does for Disney’s.

Sony’s “Spider-Man 2″ led the pack of holdovers, with $24.2 million in its third week at 4,058 engagements, down 46% from last week.

Pic crossed the $300 million benchmark on Sunday, its 19th day of release, with a cume of $301.7 million. That’s three days faster than the original “Spider-Man” hit that mark; it ultimately grossed $403.7 million. Only pic to reach the mark faster is “Shrek 2,” which passed $300 million on its 18th day.

“I, Robot” marks the fourth $50 million-plus July opening for Smith, following 2002′s “Men in Black II,” the original “Men in Black” in 1997 ($51.1 million) and “Independence Day” in 1996 ($50.2 million). All three films, however, had midweek releases in advance of the July Fourth holiday weekend. Figures represent Friday-through-Sunday perf.

Fox distrib prexy Bruce Snyder said “Robot” was propelled by an aud nearly evenly divided among the four quadrants — unusual for the typically young male-skewing sci-fi genre.

Fox’s exit surveys found the aud was 24% males under 25 years old, 27% males over 25, 24% females under 25 and 24% females over 25.

“Sometimes sci-fi movies tend to be a little bit cold,” Snyder said. “But when you put Will Smith in there, he warms them with his personality. He’s rare.”

Warners distrib chief Dan Fellman said of “Cinderella’s” aud, “We had theaters filled with females, which is what we expected.” He added, “For a movie that cost $19 million, we should do quite well on this picture.”

While not performing quite as well as Duff’s first feature film, “The Lizzie McGuire Movie,” which bowed in May last year with $17.3 million, pic marks the first time the young star has toplined a film outside of the franchise that made her famous.

New Line had nothing to cry about, with “The Notebook” dipping just 17% in its fourth week to $5.5 million at 2,089 theaters. Weepy romancer is becoming one of the summer’s sleeper hits; cume is $53.6 million. Pic played at 2,089 venues.

’9/11′ nearing $100 mil

Also holding well was Michael Moore doc “Fahrenheit 9/11,” which is quickly approaching the $100 million mark. Lions Gate and IFC Films report the film took in $7 million over the weekend, down 37% at its 2,004 venues, bringing cume to $93.8 million.

This weekend’s perf removes all the qualifiers from the pic’s best-grossing documentary record, as “Fahrenheit” has passed all concert films and Imax pictures that are sometimes included in the docu category.

‘De-Lovely’ still singing

MGM’s “De-Lovely,” now in its third week, took in another $1.5 million from 185 theaters over the weekend, an average of $8,108 per engagement, boosting cume on the Cole Porter biopic to $2.5 million. MGM plans to expand the run by 200 to 300 more theaters Friday.

Among other limited debuts, Warner Independent Pictures’ Richard Linklater-helmed “Before Sunset” grossed $560,000 from 122 bookings, an average of $4,590. Pic, which stars Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy, has made $1.7 million in its three weeks of release.

Also playing in its third week, Fox Searchlight’s “The Clearing” grossed $1.3 million from 449 locations (average: $2,784); cume is $3.7 million.

Studio continues to see success with its Sundance acquisition “Napoleon Dynamite,” which, playing in its sixth week, added $720,000 to its gross this weekend. Booked in 179 locations, pic had an average per screen of $4,022. Fox Searchlight will double the number of runs Friday. To encourage repeat viewings, a five-minute epilogue will be added to all prints.

Fine Line’s drug-smuggling drama “Maria Full of Grace” posted strong results with $125,000 from seven screens, an average of $17,857.

Focus Features’ John Irving adaptation “The Door in the Floor,” starring Jeff Bridges and Kim Basinger, took in $444,983 from 47 screens, averaging $9,468. Since opening on Wednesday, cume stands at $572,278.

Sony Pictures Classics launched two pics on Friday, gay Muslim comedy “Touch of Pink,” which brought in $88,179 from 16 screens (an average of $5,511), and Chinese romancer “Zhou Yu’s Train,” which grossed $23,111 on six screens (average: $3,852).

Indian-American romantic comedy “Flavors,” distribbed by Net Effect Media, made $56,000 on its first 14 theaters, an average of $4,000.

Among holdovers, “Metallica: Some Kind of Monster” continued to do blistering business in the U.S. but drew a tepid response in Canada. For its 23 North American screens, pic posted $124,984 for the frame, an average of $5,434. But in the U.S., where IFC Films is distribbing on seven screens, the average was nearly double at $11,477. At Los Angeles’ ArcLight, the doc did $27,224 on Friday and Saturday alone.

SPC’s surf doc “Riding Giants,” also playing in its second week, added $200,870 to the till, averaging $4,899 on its 41 screens.

Nielsen EDI estimated the weekend’s total box office at $151 million, nearly identical to the same weekend last year when “Bad Boys 2″ led the box office with $46.5 million.

Year-to-date, box office stands at $5.16 billion, up 6% from the same point in 2003 when box office was at $4.86 billion.

Through the 11th week of summer, box office is at $2.51 billion, 10% above the $2.29 billion from the year-earlier frame.

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