'Snicket' leads parade at B.O.

Christmas got off to an uninspired start as three new pictures opened on the soft end of expectations.

Paramount topped the box office chart with “Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events,” which bowed with $30.2 million from 3,620 theaters.

Sony’s “Spanglish” started at No. 3 with $9 million from 2,438 locations, and Fox’s “The Flight of the Phoenix” launched in eighth place with $5.2 million from 2,604 venues.

Biz especially looked soft when compared to last year’s weekend before Christmas when “The Lord of the Rings: The Return the Ring” did a monstrous $72.6 million during the three-day span.

Warners’ “Ocean’s Twelve” was the No. 2 picture with $18.3 million, off 53% from its opening. Sequel has cumed $68.7 million.

Better news for Warners came from “The Polar Express,” which continues to hang on. Pic did $8.6 million in its sixth weekend, down just 11% from the previous frame. Cume on the Santa toon is $123.6 million.

New Line’s “Blade: Trinity” rounded out the top five, with $6.6 million in its soph sesh, down a hefty 59% off its debut.

Par distrib head Wayne Lewellen said of “Snicket,” “We’re happy. It was certainly within the expected numbers, and I’d attribute that to the popularity of the book series.”

Studio’s exit polls found the aud to be about 60% families (parents and their kids under 12).

Kids Par for the course

“Snicket” marks the second best opening of the year for Par, following the $32 million debut for “The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie” last month. The Nickelodeon division of MTV Films had a hand in both titles. “Snicket” was co-produced by DreamWorks.

Sony distrib chief Rory Bruer had a similar opinion on the “Spanglish” debut, saying it “opened in the range we anticipated it would.” He added that helmer James Brooks’ pics have a good history of legging their way to success.

Studio’s exit data showed 55% of the aud was female, while 56% were under age 35.

Fox’s “Flight,” meanwhile, drew older male adults. Bruce Snyder said surveys found 62% of the aud was male and 61% were over 25.

“We’re playing adult, so hopefully we’ll pick up over Christmas,” he said.

Sony’s steady

Revolution and Sony’s holiday pic “Christmas With the Kranks” held well, down 25% to $5.7 million in its fourth week.

Sony also held steady with “Closer.” Coming off numerous awards mentions, pic counted $3.5 million in receipts, off just 6%. Sony added 468 new playdates for the Mike Nichols-helmed drama’s third week for a total of 1,090. Cume is $19 million.

Miramax had less luck with the expansion of its kudos-cited “Finding Neverland,” which did $1.9 million, 12th place for the weekend, after distrib bulked up the run by 448 to a total of 985. Johnny Depp starrer has cumed $16.9 million.

With no “Lord of the Rings” for the first time in three years, Nielsen EDI estimated the weekend’s total receipts were down 22% from last year to $110 million. The steep drop put the year-to-date totals only 1.4% ahead of 2003, with $8.666 billion at the wickets.

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