Bat’s in the belfry

Caped Crusader puts hex on 'Bewitched'

“Batman Begins” was able to hold off fresh competish with a $26.8 million second-week performance, a relatively modest 45% drop. Caped Crusader’s cume was pushed to $121.7 million.

“Bewitched” became the latest high-profile pic whose debut was good but not great. Released by Sony in 3,174 theaters, witch pic grossed $20.2 million in its frosh frame. That was on the low end of expectations for the Nicole Kidman-Will Ferrell tube redux, and slightly below last year’s opening for Kidman’s “The Stepford Wives,” which found $21.4 million in its first weekend.

But the statistic likely to receive the most attention this week from box office bashers is that total grosses were lower than 2004 results for the 18th straight week, beating the 17-week streak set in 1985.

While many media outlets are latching on to this as proof that Hollywood is enduring a slump, weekend also featured another stat: “Batman Begins” became the eighth pic released this year to cross the $100 million mark. Through this point in 2004, only seven titles had reached that milestone.

And while overall box office is down an estimated 7% this year, Hollywood studios have actually sold more tickets in 2005 than they did last year. Through the week ended last Thursday, the major studios and their specialty labels had receipts of $3.74 billion, which is up 2.5% from last year’s $3.65 billion through this point.

That is another way of saying that last year’s high-water mark was set largely because of non-studio fare, including “The Passion of the Christ” and “Fahrenheit 9/11,” which was released during this frame last year.

Michael Moore’s controversial doc, released independently by Lions Gate and IFC Films for Bob and Harvey Weinstein, grossed $23.9 million in its first weekend, contributing to the frame’s $149 million total ticket sales. (Second place went to the $19.7 million debut for Revolution and Sony’s “White Chicks.”)

This year, Nielsen EDI estimates the weekend’s total at $123 million — $26 million or 17% behind — and thus the streak continues.

‘Smith’ sticks

Elsewhere at the box office this weekend, 20th Century Fox’s “Mr. and Mrs. Smith” held strong in third place with $16.8 million, raising cume on the Brad Pitt-Angelina Jolie actioner to $125.4 million. Pic dropped just 36% in its third frame.

In the No. 4 spot was Walt Disney’s debut of “Herbie: Fully Loaded,” which brought in $12.8 million over the weekend from 3,521 locations. Since bowing on Wednesday, the Lindsay Lohan-starring update of the classic talking car franchise has grossed $17.8 million.

The frame’s other new entrant, Universal’s “George A. Romero’s Land of the Dead” bowed at No. 5 with $10.2 million from 2,249 venues.

Sony distrib prexy Rory Bruer said of “Bewitched,” “We’re pleased. It’s a solid opening for us.”

As expected, the pic skewed toward older females, with femmes repping 58% of the aud, with 54% over age 25, according to studio exit polls.

Interestingly, for Ferrell, pic repped the fourth wide release in a row to both bow over $20 million and in second place.

While “Herbie” also debuted on the lower end of expectations, Disney distrib chief Chuck Viane said he is encouraged that the daily growth in grosses — pic jumped 19% from Friday to Saturday — indicates playability in the family market and validated their strategy of building word of mouth with a Wednesday bow.

“We’ve got ourselves very well set up to go into the holiday,” he said.

Exit polls showed that 71% of the aud was kids 12 and under and their parents. Aud was also 57% female.

U distrib topper Nikki Rocco was also satisfied with the results for “Land of the Dead,” which was produced on a budget of around $15 million.

“It’s where the tracking expectations were,” she said. “It’s going to be fine for us and going to perform well in the ancillary markets.”

Opening ‘March’

In the limited arena, the start of Warner Independent Pictures’ nature doc “March of the Penguins” was more a sprint than a waddle. Unspooling on four screens in L.A. and Gotham, “Penguins” grossed $121,788 in its first frame, a stout average of $30,447 per screen.

Also debuting well was Lions Gate’s krumping doc “Rize,” which picked up $1.6 million in its 352-screen debut. Pic averaged $4,545 per screen. Also noteworthy, Lions Gate’s “Crash,” now in its eighth week, edged closer to the $50 million mark with $930,000 from 492 screens, pushing its cume to $48.1 million.

Among the other fresh titles, Sony Pictures Classics unspooled “Yes” on seven screens and found $29,437, an average of $4,205 per run.

Rialto’s reissue of “Elevator to the Gallows” started with $7,000 from its solo Gotham engagement.

Samuel Goldwyn’s “Lila Says” opened on two screens and counted $13,000 over the frame, an average of $6,500 per engagement.

Thinkfilm’s Lew Wasserman doc, “The Last Mogul,” debuted on a solo L.A. screen and counted $6,000.

Among the holdovers, Disney’s Japanese toon “Howl’s Moving Castle” grossed $560,000 from 202 screens, an average of $2,772, and raised cume to a hair under $2.5 million.

In its second week, IFC’s “Me and You and Everyone We Know” padded its cume by $79,246, for a total of $128,304. Playing five screens, pic averaged a strong $15,849.

Sony Classics’ “Heights,” also in its second week, had $94,778 in receipts from 20 screens, an average of $4,739. Cume now stands at $174,148. Label’s “Saving Face,” in its fifth frame, grossed $128,939 from 56 screens. Results, which averaged $2,302 per engagement, raises cume to $637,895.

Focus Features’ “My Summer of Love,” in its second week, brought in $171,024 off 55 screens, an average of $3,110, which brings cume to $308,587.

Paramount Classics’ doc “Mad Hot Ballroom” kept up its run with $487,570 from 192 screens. Averaging $2,539 in its seventh week, pic now has a cume just past $3 million. Label’s “Apres Vous,” in its fourth week, grossed $73,437 off 34 screens, averaging $2,160 and bringing cume to $314,053.

Roadside Attractions’ “Ladies in Lavender” also continued a long-legged run, with $264,000 in its ninth week, raising its cume to $3.36 million. Playing on 110 screens, pic averaged $2,400 per screen.

Tartan and TLA Releasing’s “Mysterious Skin” also chugged along with $60,643 in its eighth week. Playing 19 screens, pic averaged $3,192 per, and pushed cume to $419,028.

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