WB sequel fetches $31 mil; 'Ladykillers' low-key

This article was updated at 7:51 p.m.

Warners Bros.’ “Scooby-Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed” opened with an estimated $30.7 million, 43% less than the original family laffer’s summer bow but better than pre-release projections and plenty strong enough to capture the weekend box office.

Disney’s Tom Hanks starrer “The Ladykillers,” the Coen brothers’ arch take on the 1955 black comedy, slayed $13 million to open in second place in what proved to be the skimpiest Hanks bow in 17 years. Mel Gibson’s Newmarket-distribbed “The Passion of the Christ” was third with $12.5 million.

Universal horror remake “Dawn of the Dead” tumbled a big 61% in its soph session to $10.3 million in fourth place. And Miramax’s Kevin Smith-helmed romancer “Jersey Girl,” starring Ben Affleck, Liv Tyler and Jennifer Lopez, took the fifth slot in its inaugural frame with $8.3 million.

Fox Searchlight’s urban drama “Never Die Alone” debuted outside of the top 10 with $3.1 million.

Among frame’s limited openers, Lions Gate’s minimalist Nicole Kidman starrer “Dogville” unspooled with an estimated $90,000 from nine Gotham and L.A. engagements, for a notable $10,000 per playdate.

Focus Features’ Oz Western “Ned Kelly,” starring Heath Ledger, Orlando Bloom and Naomi Watts, grossed a weak $42,700 from 22 theaters in four markets — or just $1,941 per venue –after bowing amid poor reviews.

And First Look’s “Mayor of the Sunset Strip,” a biopic about radio personality Rodney Bingenheimer, grossed $25,200 from seven L.A. locations, or $3,600 per location, with “Mayor” set for a Gotham inaugural Friday.

Elsewhere this weekend, Warners’ Angelina Jolie suspenser “Taking Lives” fell 43% to $6.5 million in sixth place for a 10-day cume of $21.7 million. And Focus’ “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” a fantasy toplined by Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet, slid a smallish 34% in its second session to $5.4 million with a $16.7 million cume.

Perf, which repped $3,997 per engagement, placed “Sunshine” in just eighth place on the session as the typically highbrow Charlie Kaufman-penned pic had opened last weekend with a tepid $8.6 million.

Distrib sees pic’s best prospects for profitability — and covering Carrey’s pricey payday — lying in the longer haul, so “Sunshine” is running in a relatively light 1,357 theaters. Carrey waved his usual $20 million guarantee on “Sunshine” in exchange for backend participation.

Year-to-year upswing

Industrywide, the latest weekend repped a 15% uptick from the same frame a year ago with $119 million in total estimated grosses, according to B.O. tracker Nielsen EDI.

Year-to-date, 2004 is 6% ahead of the same portion of last year at $1.88 billion.

Among limited players, IFC Films’ “Intermission” maintained 26 locations and grossed $76,000, or $2,923 per site, with the Colin Farrell starrer set for 20 more runs starting Friday.

Sony Classics’ French laffer “Bon Voyage” added five theaters for a total six in grossing $62,995, or a substantial $10,499 per venue with a $104,223 cume.

Distrib’s “Good Bye, Lenin!” grossed $287,816 from 62 playdates, or $4,642 per engagement; cume is $1 million. And its “Monsieur Ibrahim” fetched $194,700 from 70 runs, or $2,781 per site, with a $1.2 million cume.

Weekend perf for “Scooby-Doo 2″ repped the best March opening ever for Warners.

“We wanted to escape the early summer releases like ‘Harry Potter’ and ‘Shrek 2,’ Warners distribution boss Dan Fellman said of pic’s spring slotting.

“We were very happy with the date,” said Chuck Roven, a producer on the pic. “We think we will have good word of mouth.”

That would help sustain the PG-rated pic leading up to the family-friendly Easter weekend. “Scooby 2″ auds skewed heavily toward family patrons, Fellman noted.

The first “Scooby” opened with $54.1 million in June 2002, en route to a domestic cume of $153.3 million.

Hanks in new territory

“Ladykillers” was never expected to match its topliner’s biggest bows, but the arthouse-oriented laffer definitely takes Hanks down a less lucrative path.

One has to go back to 1989 to find a lesser-grossing wide opening for a Hanks starrer. That’s when his “Turner & Hooch” debuted with $12.2 million and grossed $71 million domestically.

Still, the estimated bow for “Ladykillers” reps a personal best for the Coens, surpassing the $12.5 million opening of “Intolerable Cruelty” last October. “Cruelty” went on to gross $35.2 million, but Disney is aiming to reach at least the $45.5 million perf of 2000’s Coen brothers’ platformer “O Brother, Where Art Thou?”

“Jersey Girl” opened in 1,520 locations, with Miramax planning to add engagements over the next two sessions to get distribution up to 2,200-2,500 engagements by Easter weekend. Strategy keys on using positive word of mouth to sustain market momentum, said Miramax chief operating officer Rick Sands said.

“Exit surveys were very positive,” Sands added.

Auds for opening weekend skewed 70% female, with 41% of patrons ages 18-34.

Fox Searchlight distribution prexy Steve Gilulua said “Never Die Alone” was a $3 million acquisition from Ed Pressman and John Schmidt’s Content Films.

As such, pic’s opening was “acceptable,” Gilula said.

Looking to next weekend, four pics bow wide. Sony unspools comicbook actioner “Hellboy,” Disney debuts family toner “Home on the Range,” MGM opens its remake of 1973 actioner “Walking Tall,” and Paramount sends out romancer “The Prince and Me.”

Sony sold out sneak previews for “Hellboy” in single locations in Gotham and L.A. this weekend. Most patrons for the sneaks booked their seats through advance Internet ticketing, Sony distribution prexy Rory Bruer noted.

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