‘Ring’ B.O. off the hook

D'Works sequel dials up $36 mil, tests 'Robots' mettle

More than doubling the original’s opening, DreamWorks opened “The Ring Two” with $36 million from 3,332 locations this weekend, the second $36 million opening of March.

Meanwhile, the other big opener of the month, 20th Century Fox’s “Robots,” held well, grossing $21.8 million in its second week, down 39% from its opening.

“Robots” led the pack of family fare, doing strong biz at the beginning of the school spring break season. CGI toon now has a cume of $66.9 million.

Walt Disney opened “Ice Princess” to $7 million from 2,501 venues, placing it at No. 4 for the frame. Meanwhile, Vin Diesel family laffer “The Pacifier” was in the third position in its third week, with $12.5 million, bringing its cume to $72.3 million. Pic was off 31% from last week.

Rounding out the top five is Sony’s long-legged “Hitch,” which added another $6.6 million in its sixth week, down just 21% from last week, bringing cume on the Will Smith pic to $159.4 million.

While “The Grudge’s” $39.1 million record for the biggest horror opening remains safe, “Ring Two” will likely be somewhere in the top four when final numbers are released on Monday. Currently holding the No. 2 and 3 spots on the all-time horror bow list are 2003’s “Freddy vs. Jason” and 1994’s “Interview With the Vampire,” both with $36.4 million.

Wherever the pic ends up in the record books, “Ring Two” was well ahead of the original “Ring,” which bowed with $15 million in October 2002. Though that pic opened in just 1,981 theaters, “Ring Two” did more biz per engagement with $10,804 per theater vs. the first’s $7,580.

“Any time you’re more than twice the original, you’ve got to be happy,” said DreamWorks distrib prexy Jim Tharp.

While horror was tops at the box office this weekend, the next three spots on the chart were pics with heavy family traffic, as schools let out for spring vacations. Disney distrib topper Chuck Viane said families were about two-thirds of the “Ice Princess” aud.

“We picked this time because we knew that we still have plenty of school vacation ahead of us,” Viane said. “We’re in this for the long run. Knowing that we had a family movie, we knew they didn’t have to be pressured to go on the opening weekend.”

Fox distrib head Bruce Snyder said he also expects “Robots” to post higher-than-normal weekday numbers over the next couple of weeks. “It’s a great playtime for this kind of movie.”

On Monday, more than a quarter of the country’s school kids will be on break, he said, climbing to more than a third on Thursday and nearly three-quarters on Good Friday. The following week, half of students will be out on Monday and around 30% during the next week.

Meanwhile, Oscar best-pic winner “Million Dollar Baby,” remains firmly in the top 10 with $4.1 million for the frame, which brings its cume to $90 million. Though it lost out at the Oscars, Miramax and Warners’ “The Aviator” became the first of last year’s best pic nominees to cross the $100 million mark. Earning $891,288 this weekend, that brought the Martin Scorsese pic’s cume to $100,436,531.

Overall, box office was slower than last year, according to Nielsen EDI’s $114 million estimate of total weekend B.O. With “The Passion of the Christ” raking in more than $19 million in its fourth weekend, last year’s frame was good for $119 million.

For the year, there’s been $1.720 billion in biz at the wickets, which is less than 1% behind 2004, a rather sturdy figure considering that the comparison period includes nearly $300 million in “Passion” cash.

Several distribs mentioned the NCAA basketball tournament as a potential factor at the B.O. in March. CBS has reported the strongest ratings for the first two days of March Madness since they began airing the event in 1991, up 4% over last year.

In the limited arena, Fox Searchlight saw Woody Allen’s “Melinda and Melinda” gross $74,048 from its exclusive Gotham booking. If the number holds, it would be the highest three-day average for the label, just ahead of the $73,044 “I Heart Huckabees” averaged at four theaters on its opening weekend.

Steve Gilula, Searchlight distrib prexy, said the label will expand the pic to 12 cities and around 85 screens Wednesday before going national on April 8.

Searchlight’s “Millions,” helmed by Danny Boyle, did strong biz at its expansion locations this weekend, grossing $240,000 from 23 screens, giving it an average of $10,435. Pic had added 18 runs for its second week and now has a cume of $336,224.

New Line’s “The Upside of Anger” did even better in its sophomore session. Playing 153 screens, 144 of them new, pic grossed a tad over $1.9 million, averaging $12,667 per venue. Perf boosted cume to $2.2 million.

Also expanding successfully was Newmarket’s “Downfall,” on 87 screens in its fifth week. Pic grossed $624,963 over the weekend, for an average of $7,183. Cume is now a bit above $1.4 million.

Miramax’s “The Best of Youth” finished its exclusive run at the Film Forum with a strong $17,154 gross for the frame. Italian lingo pic has a cume of $54,134.

Also from Miramax, “Dear Frankie” posted $65,164 for its third weekend, an average of $3,620 per screen and pushing its cume to $215,415. “Bride and Prejudice” added $618,315 in its sixth frame, bringing cume to a hair under $4.8 million. Playing on 288 screens, pic averaged $2,147.

ThinkFilm’s Oscar-winning doc “Born Into Brothels” nosed toward the $2 million mark with $322,460 from 127 bookings this weekend, averaging $2,539.

Sony Pictures Classics saw “In My Country” gross $20,067 from 15 locations in its second week, bringing its cume to $51,509. Among the distrib’s other pics in release, “The Merchant of Venice” grossed $183,662 from 107 locations, averaging $1,716, which brought its cume just past $3 million.

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