D’Works’ feat of clay

'Wallace' takes shape as Clooney finds 'Luck' at B.O.

While the box office results produced by the five new wide releases this weekend were short of spectacular, the fall season continued its encouraging start.

Weekend also featured several promising specialty entrants as Warner Independent Pictures’ “Good Night, and Good Luck,” the Edward Murrow pic starring George Clooney, opened to $420,000 on 11 screens for a stellar average of $38,121.

DreamWorks Animation’s claymation title “Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit” won the frame with a $16.1 million debut at 3,645 theaters.

While the results are much more modest than those of previous DreamWorks fall titles, “Were-Rabbit” finished within the range of expectations going into the weekend.

It was followed by Walt Disney’s durable holdover, Jodie Foster thriller “Flightplan,” which rang up $10.8 million in its third weekend, off just 27% for the frame. Cume is now $60.9 million.

Other new wide releases turned in mostly modest perfs. In the No. 3 position was 20th Century Fox’s “In Her Shoes” with $10 million from 3,570.

“Two for the Money,” a Morgan Creek pic that Universal released in 2,391, followed at No. 4 with $8.9 million for the three-day span. Opening a bit stronger than expected at No. 5 was Sony and Screen Gems’ “The Gospel,” which grossed $8 million from a modest 969-engagement run. The weekend’s final new wide pic, Lions Gate’s “Waiting…,” started off with $5.7 million from 1,652, which ranked it No. 7 for the frame.

With a crush of new films in the marketplace, last week’s entries were pushed down the chart. New Line’s “A History of Violence” sank to eighth place as it grossed $5.1 million in its second week of wide release, off 37%. Cume is $16.7 million.

U’s sci-fi pic “Serenity” found $4.9 million in its sophomore session, down 51% from its opening, which placed it at No. 9 on this weekend’s chart. Cume on the Joss Whedon pic is $17.6 million.

Rounding out the top 10 was another sophomore, Sony’s “Into the Blue,” which pulled in $4.8 million, off 32% from its debut. Cume is $13.9 million.

Finishing lower on the charts, Disney’s golf drama “The Greatest Game Ever Played” increased its grosses by 10% after the distrib expanded its run by 796 runs in its second week for a total of 1,810. Over the three-day span, pic brought in $4 million to push cume to $8.8 million.

Though grosses were mostly middling, the weekend managed to stand its own. Nielsen EDI estimates total receipts during the frame at $106 million, basically flat with the $106.7 million in the comparison frame last year. That the frame held up so well is a bit surprising given that last year’s was led by “Shark Tale’s” $31.3 million second week and the $20.3 million debut for “Friday Night Lights.”

The steady weekend keeps fall running ahead of last year’s season.

The $581.8 million in grosses since Labor Day is 4.9% ahead of the season through this point last year.

Year-to-date, 2005’s $6.608 billion at the box office is 6.5% behind 2004.

DreamWorks distrib prexy Jim Tharp said that while “Wallace & Gromit” bowed a bit ahead of where tracking put it at the end of last weekend, results were in line with the studio’s expectations. “We always thought we could open better,” he said. “The tracking didn’t include the reviews, which were phenomenal.”

Some older auds

Exit surveys seemed to indicate that adult interest in the pic was higher than for the normal kidtoon.

While 68% of the aud was made up of parents and their children, overall the aud was 75% over age 25.

Tharp estimates that reflects an aud broken down by thirds: “The kids were a third, their parents were a third and then the last third was the regular moviegoers who read the reviews,” he said.

Still, toon results were much lower than for last year’s “Shark Tale,” and even lower than the $17.5 million opening from 2000’s “Chicken Run,” also produced by claymation studio Aardman Animations.

“In Her Shoes” opened lower than industry estimates had predicted, but Fox distrib topper Bruce Snyder said the studio was hopeful for a steady run. “I think we’ll be here for a while.” While demos weren’t available, Snyder said he expected the audience to be similar to that at sneak previews last weekend, when 70% of the aud was female.

“Two for the Money,” the first Morgan Creek film to be distribbed by U through its new pact, predictably skewed older, with 66% of the aud over age 30. Given the sports betting theme, pic attracted more femmes than expected: Aud was just 51% male, according to U’s exit polls.

‘Gospel’ sings

Screen Gems prexy Clint Culpepper said he was extraordinarily pleased with the results for “The Gospel,” which was produced for just $4 million. “You would be surprised how many gospel fans are out there,” he said.

Sony had aggressively courted African-American churches to boost the opening, an effort Sony distrib chief Rory Bruer said he felt showed in the gross.

“The Gospel” had by far the top screen average in the top 10, he said. “We went after its core audience, but the movie plays so well even outside of that,” Bruer added.

Among the specialty pics, Miramax’s “Proof” had a good first outing in national release. Latter picked up $1.6 million from 517 screens, an expansion of 277 for its fourth weekend. With a screen average of $3,002, cume is now $4.5 million.

Sony Pictures Classics’ “Thumbsucker” is not doing as well as it expands. Playing at 330 engagements — an expansion of 239 — pic grossed $341,191 over the frame for an average of $1,034 per screen. Cume is $850,112.

The summer’s breakout specialty pic, Warner Independent’s “March of the Penguins,” crossed another B.O. milestone this weekend, reaching a cume of $75.4 million. Nature doc, which is in its 16th week of release, padded receipts by $430,000 this weekend.

Meanwhile, Focus Features’ “The Constant Gardener” passed $30 million this week. Playing on 469 screens, the international thriller brought in $808,788 in its sixth frame, for an average of $1,725; cume is $31.2 million.

Warner Independent’s “Good Night, and Good Luck” played 11 screens in Gotham, L.A., San Francisco, Boston and D.C., but distrib head Steven Friedlander said the label would be aggressively expanding the journo tale, with 200 runs planned for Oct. 21, more than 500 on Nov. 4 and further expansion around the Thanksgiving holiday.

Gotham goes for fish

Samuel Goldwyn and Sony successfully opened Noah Baumbach’s “The Squid and the Whale,” ringing up $123,708 on four screens, averaging $30,927. Pic played just New York locations this weekend — with exceptional results in Manhattan. The Angelika Film Center brought in $51,855 while Lincoln Plaza grossed $40,714. Pic, which stars Jeff Daniels and Laura Linney, is skedded for L.A. release Oct. 14.

Among the holdovers, Sony Classics’ “Capote” continued to play strongly in its second week. Playing 24 screens, literary biopic starring Philip Seymour Hoffman grossed $413,613 for a stout screen average of $17,234. Cume is now $905,420.

Regency and Fox’s “Little Manhattan” also continued a strong run in Manhattan. Playing two Gotham screens, pic grossed $30,008 in its second weekend for an average of $15,004. Cume is $80,599.

Destination and Samuel Goldwyn’s “Mirrormask” grossed $96,000 in its sophomore session from 24 screens for an average of $4,000. Cume is $283,282.

Warner Independent’s “Everything Is Illuminated” brought in $225,000 from 85 screens in its fourth frame, averaging $2,647; cume is $750,000.

DreamWorks’ Julianne Moore starrer “The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio” brought in $107,338 in its second week. Playing 41 screens, period piece averaged $2,618; cume is $328,000.

Entering its fourth week of release, Fox Searchlight’s “Separate Lies” grossed $128,000 from 59 over the frame, averaging $2,169. Cume is $284,000.

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