U laffer leads with $27 mil heading into the holiday

This article was updated at 4:57 p.m.

“Along Came Polly” made for a jolly holiday weekend at Universal, as the Ben Stiller-Jennifer Aniston laffer opened with an estimated $27.6 million.

Estimates for all pics’ Sunday box office were bolstered by expectations of higher-than-usual moviegoing ahead of school and work closings for the Martin Luther King holiday today. But “Polly” clearly overachieved in the size of its weekend win.

Sony’s Tim Burton fantasy “Big Fish” was the weekend runner-up over its sixth frame with $10.4 million over three days. And Warner Bros.’ urban actioner “Torque” rode to a $10.3 million debut in the No. 3 spot.

“We knew ‘Polly’ was going to dominate the marketplace,” U distribution prexy Nikki Rocco said, “but not at this level.”

“Disney’s Teacher’s Pet,” a modestly budgeted adaptation of a Mouse House TV tooner, bowed weakly outside of the top 10 with $2.4 million. Pic appeared unable to transfer positive crix notices into support beyond younger tots.

‘King’ comes in fourth

New Line fantasy “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” was fourth among tightly grouped weekend also-rans with $10.2 million. Haul pushed trilogy-capper’s five-week cume to a mind-bending $328.9 million.

Twentieth Century Fox’s leggy laffer “Cheaper by the Dozen” finished fifth with $8.8 million, as cume for the Steve Martin-toplined family film reached $112 million.

Miramax’s Civil War epic “Cold Mountain” — which added 500 theaters this weekend for a total 2,802 — grossed $7 million in sixth place to march its cume to $65 million through four frames.

Warners adult laffer “Something’s Gotta Give” grossed $6 million in seventh and moved cume to $101 million.

Miramax’s urban laffer “My Baby’s Daddy” dropped 52% to $3.7 million in eighth place over its soph session, marking a $12.4 million cume through its first 10 days. Warners’ teen romancer “Chasing Liberty” tumbled from the top rankings in its second weekend, dropping to $2.8 million for a $10 million cume.

Disney boosted Brit laffer “Calendar Girls” finished ninth in its fifth frame with $3.1 million and a $17.2 million cume. Sharing the ninth position was Warners’ Tom Cruise starrer “The Last Samurai,” which raised cume to $102 million through seven sessions.

Week off from 2003

Industrywide, the weekend repped a 5% decline from the same frame a year earlier with $117 million in total estimated grosses, according to B.O. tracker Nielsen EDI. Year-to-date, 2004 is off 6% from the same period of last year with $292 million in total grosses.

Among the latest frame’s notable specialty expansions, Newmarket broadened Charlize Theron starrer “Monster” by 139 theaters to a total 221 and grossed an estimated $1.5 million. That delivered a solid average of $6,864 per venue and took cume to $3.3 million.

Lions Gate expanded casino drama “The Cooler” by 326 runs for a total 396 and grossed $1.2 million, or $3,114 per site with a $3.7 million cume.

‘Earring’ shines

Distrib’s drama “The Girl With a Pearl Earring” added 10 playdates for a total 51 and grossed $470,000, or a notable $9,216 per engagement with a $1.9 million cume.

In a limited bow, IDP unspooled Destination/Goldwyn’s anime laffer “Tokyo Godfathers” in eight locations and grossed an estimated $30,000, or $3,750 per site.

IDP/Goldwyn drama “Japanese Story” added a first-time Gotham venue for a total five runs in grossing $28,000, or $5,600 per engagement with a $91,626 cume.

Rialto expanded its re-release of “The Battle of Algiers” by one theater for a total seven and grossed $63,232, or a nifty $9,033 with a cume of $168,407.

The “Polly” bow repped a January record for a laffer of any sort, besting a previous high mark of $17.8 million for 2002’s laffer “Snow Dogs.”

Michael Shamberg, who produced “Polly” along with Stacey Sher and Danny DeVito, applauded the breadth of pic’s bow. Though it skewed 60% femme and 53% under age 30, “Polly” drew relatively strongly among both older and younger males and females.

“It was a four-quadrant movie, and that was another pleasant surprise,” Shamberg said.

‘Torque’ ‘hits marks’

“Torque,” which stars rapper/thesp Ice Cube, played to auds comprising 57% males, with 30% of patrons African-American. Execs said pic’s opening was in line with expectations.

“We hit our marks,” Warners distribution topper Dan Fellman observed.

Miramax chief operating officer Rick Sands said he was pleased with the skimpy 11% weekend-over-weekend drop on “Cold Mountain.” By boosting playdates this frame, execs had aimed to revitalized market traction for the Jude Law-Nicole Kidman starrer ahead of looming Oscar noms.

“The distribution strategy has worked,” Sands said. “We’re playing for the long haul.”

Looking to next weekend, two pics are set for wide release. New Line unspools an Ashton Kutcher-toplined drama “The Butterfly Effect” and DreamWorks debuts romancer “Win a Date With Tad Hamilton.”

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