Hot toon cools ‘Polar’ bow

'Incredibles' doubles B.O. of WB's Tom Hanks starrer

It was a tale of two toons and “The Incredibles” emerged the clear victor, dwarfing the first frame for Warner Bros.’ “The Polar Express.”

Disney and Pixar’s PG-rated toon, playing in its second week, grossed $51 million, down just 28% from its titanic opening. Christmas tale “Polar” took in $23.5 million over the three-day frame and $30.8 million since its Wednesday bow.

“Polar,” starring Tom Hanks and helmed by Robert Zemeckis, played at 3,650 theaters, a bit below the 3,933 for “Incredibles.” The superhero CGI pic now has a cume of $144 million.

Also debuting this weekend was New Line’s “After the Sunset,” which scored $11.6 million in its opening frame. Pic, starring Pierce Brosnan and Salma Hayek and helmed by Brett Ratner, played at 2,819 locations.

Universal’s sequel “Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason” rung up $8.9 million after an early start in 530 theaters. Pic’s planned wide release starts Friday.

Rounding out the top five was Rogue Pictures’ “Seed of Chucky,” which claimed $8.8 million from its first 2,059 venues.

Besides “Incredibles,” the only other second-week pic was Paramount’s “Alfie,” which dropped to 10th place with $2.8 million, down 55% from its opening.

“Polar Express” came in significantly below industry expectations, pumped by its $170 million production pricetag and $125 million marketing budget (half of the pic’s costs are being born by Steve Bing), but Warners declared the weekend a victory.

“The strategy we had to have the sneaks last weekend and then start to build word of mouth is really starting to kick in,” said Warners distrib prexy Dan Fellman, noting grosses jumped each day from Wednesday ($2.6 million) to Saturday ($10.3 million).

“We’re still going to make a big success of this movie,” he said.

Huge on bigscreen

The film has been playing extraordinarily strongly at the 59 Imax theaters that unspooled a 3-D version day-and-date in North America.

Imax prexy Greg Foster said the large-format version grossed $3 million over the five-day span, a record for the format. Those sales are reported as part of the $30.8 million total for “Polar.” The 59 Imax venues account for nearly 10% of the toon’s total B.O. take.

Foster said the G-rated Santa tale is receiving strong support from school groups, which have bought out weeks’ worth of early shows at some locations.

“At the Henry Ford Theaters in Dearborn, Mich.,” he said, “every 10 a.m. and 12 p.m. show is sold out with group sales through mid-January.” He said the Loews Lincoln Square Imax theater in Manhattan has had similar biz.

Heroes’ super hold

“Incredibles” continued to set records for the Disney-Pixar franchise. After scoring the best opening, this weekend was also the top second weekend in dollar terms, outdistancing “Finding Nemo’s” sophomore session in 2003.

Disney distrib chief Chuck Viane said, “It pretty much remained the same audience, basically, except we did get a tad older, and I attribute that to the excellent reviews and word of mouth we’ve received.”

New Line distrib head David Tuckerman said the studio was pleased with “Sunset’s” bow. “We think we’re positioned fairly well to play through the holidays,” he said.

With that PG-13-rated pic drawing an aud that was 54% above age 30, and nearly evenly split between men and women, he said, ” ‘Bridget Jones’ probably ate into our core a little bit.”

“Bridget,” rated R, played in the top 100 markets and drew a 74% femme aud, but, as with “Sunset,” most were over age 30.

U distrib topper Nikki Rocco said the early limited run was a chance to jumpstart the sequel: “We took advantage of an opportunity to build word of mouth by counterprogramming the weekend.”

“Bridget’s” $8.9 million weekend, which averaged $16,705 per engagement, is a “performance that’s very indicative of a hit franchise.”

Cheering ‘Chucky’

Rogue, the genre arm of U’s specialty division Focus Features, was equally pleased with the rollout of the fifth pic in the “Chucky” franchise. Produced on a $12 million budget, distrib chief Jack Foley said, “The film is going to make a lot of money for us, so we’re pretty happy.”

Rated R, “Chucky” attracted primarily 18- to 21-year-olds, as expected, but a higher-than-expected 46% of the aud was female. “It skewed more male,” Foley said, “but I was surprised at how many females went to go see it.” He said the polls also showed strong interest from African-American and Hispanic moviegoers.

The batch of new pics finally reversed the box office slump. Nielsen EDI estimates the overall box office for the weekend at $146 million, which is 10% ahead of the comparison weekend in 2003, when holdover “Elf’s” $26.3 million beat out opener “Master and Commander’s” $25.1 million.

Year-to-date, 2004 box office is now $7.841 billion, just 2.2% ahead of 2003 through the same point.

Sunday box office estimate for the weekend of November 12 – 14, 2004:

Title (weeks in release), 3-day, eng., $/eng, cume, % change

1. The Incredibles (2) $51.0m – 3,933 eng., $12,980 per eng., $144.1m, -28%
2. The Polar Express (1) $23.5m – 3,650 eng. $6,447 per eng., $30.8m, —
3. After the Sunset (1) $11.6m – 2,819 eng. $4,115 per eng., $11.6m, —
4. Bridget Jones… (1) $8.9m – 530 eng. $16,705 per eng., $8.9m, —
5. Seed of Chucky (1) $8.8m – 2,059 eng. $4,258 per eng., $8.8m, —
6. Ray (3) $8.4m – 2,474 eng., $3,380 per eng., $52.5m,-39%
7. The Grudge (4) $7.1m – 2,816 eng. $2,521 per eng., $99.3m, -44%
8. Saw (3) $6.4m – 2,467 eng., $2,594 per eng., $45.7m, -42%
9. Shall We Dance (5) $4.0m – 2,065 eng. $1,937 per eng., $48.7m, -28%
10. Alfie (2) $2.8m – 2,215 eng., $1,253 per eng., $11.1m, -55%

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