U sticking to its ‘Man’ plan

'Cinderella' story or boxed in?

While “Cinderella Man’s” $18.6 million bow was softer than expected, it’s still too soon to say which way the picture will go.

Of course, Universal hopes that it follows the course of previous summer drama success “Seabiscuit.”

But that will take a leggy perf, with the pic falling only moderately next weekend. Last summer’s “The Terminal” is a cautionary reminder of how difficult it can be to bank on a pic playing on and on amid the titan titles of summer.

U says it remains committed to the pic and is encouraged by exit polls from opening weekend that showed that word of mouth should be strong.

Summer adult dramas have a mixed track record. Recent successes “Seabiscuit” and “Road to Perdition” share the same history: Neither opened at No. 1 but they managed to perform strongly in subsequent weekends.

By opening in July, they also didn’t have to contend with the summer’s biggest titles, which typically bow in May or June.

After “Seabiscuit” opened July 25, 2003, to $20.9 million, in its second frame it added 432 locations and dropped just 15% to $17.6 million. It continued to bulk up over the next five weeks, peaking at 2,573 venues in week No. 7, and drops continued to be shallow.

In its third and fourth weeks, the horse pic dropped 32%, first to $12 million then to $8.1 million.

The solid holds helped “Seabiscuit” get past $100 million in its sixth week (Labor Day), ultimately cuming $120.1 million.

“Perdition” followed a similar pattern. It opened July 12, 2002, to $22.1 million. In its second week, it dropped 30% to $15.4 million and then 28% in its third weekend to $11.1 million. “Perdition’s” total domestic take topped out at $104.1 million.

Released two weeks before “Spider-Man 2” stormed into theaters, it became clear that “Terminal” wouldn’t get as far (its domestic take was $77 million) after it began sinking in its fourth weekend by 54%.

The idea that adult dramas could play in the summer started largely in 2000 with “Gladiator.” Released the first week of May, the Russell Crowe starrer opened at $34.8 million, then dropped just 29% to $24.6 million. By the end of its third weekend it had grossed more than $100 million, ultimately taking in $187.7 million.

Fox had hoped that Ridley Scott would repeat that pattern with “Kingdom of Heaven.” It released the Crusades epic on the same weekend and in around the same number of theaters (3,216 for “Heaven” vs. “Gladiator’s” 2,938), but the pic failed to measure up.

“Kingdom” grossed just $19.6 million and began fading quickly. It dropped 54% in its second weekend, then by 63% in its third frame. It is also losing theaters fast. While “Kingdom” played at just 571 this past weekend and earned $607,075, in its fifth weekend, “Gladiator” was still showing at 3,056 locations and earned $8.4 million.

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