Diva laffer 'Monster' tops another tepid frame

Three successful film openings over the weekend — led by the $24 million bow for New Line’s “Monster-in-Law” — weren’t enough to snap a now 12-week weak streak at the box office.

“Monster-in-Law,” which unspooled at 3,424 theaters, was a career-best opening for both Jennifer Lopez and Jane Fonda.

Not too far behind was the Will Ferrell family pic “Kicking & Screaming” with $20.9 million at 3,455 venues.

Also opening strongly was Rogue’s Jet Li actioner “Unleashed,” with $10.6 million from 1,957 locations.

Failing to make much of an impact at the box office, Dimension’s thriller “Mindhunters” grossed $2 million from 1,040 engagements, and ranked No. 10 for the frame.

Claiming the No. 4 spot was 20th Century Fox’s “Kingdom of Heaven” with $9.6 million in its second week, down 51%.

Holding extremely well in its sophomore session was Lions Gate’s “Crash,” down just 21% with $7.2 million, which ranked fifth.

Warners’ horror pic “House of Wax,” also in its soph sesh, followed with $6.3 million, a 48% drop from its opening.

Elsewhere, Warner Bros.’ best picture winner “Million Dollar Baby” crossed the $100 million mark in its 22nd week of release with $182,000 from 345 theaters this weekend. Its cume stands at $100.15 million.

All told, though, the weekend’s $103 million in total box office, as estimated by Nielsen EDI, is 8% behind last year’s mark when “Troy” debuted with $47 million.

Weekend results have been behind 2004 numbers for 12 weeks, a span that stretches back to February, which is the longest stretch in the last 14 years. In 1991, there 14 weekends that trailed the year-prior figures and in 1985, frames drooped for 17 straight weeks.

More importantly, year-to-date box office continues to trail 2004. With $2.715 billion through this weekend, 2005 is off last year by 7%.

‘Monster’ bash

Still, individually, film perfs have been strong so far this year. And New Line is extremely pleased with “Monster’s” surprise victory this weekend.

Arguing that the results disproved the mostly negative reviews for “Monster,” New Line’s distrib prexy David Tuckerman said, “This is a popular movie that people want to see. “

While tracking had shown strong interest from women, Tuckerman said exit surveys showed that the movie got more support than expected from men.

The polls showed the aud was 60% female — a slightly lower proportion than showed up at sneaks last May 8. Men, Tuckerman said, “were easier to bring than normal.”

Like “Monster,” “Kicking & Screaming” was produced for around $45 million.

“Kicking” reps the third straight Ferrell starrer to open at more than $20 million but also in second place: “Elf’s” $31 million bow trailed “The Matrix Revolutions” and last summer’s “Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy” bowed at $28.4 million but was behind the second week of “Spider-Man 2.”

U’s distrib topper Nikki Rocco said “The picture’s performance exceeded the tracking’s expectations.”

She predicted that because of its heavy family traffic, the PG-rated laffer will hold better than other titles in the marketplace against the coming onslaught Thursday of PG-13-rated “Star Wars: Episode III — The Revenge of the Sith.”

Polls showed that 60% of “Kicking’s” opening weekend aud was kids under 12 and their parents.

“Family films like ours tend to have good playability,” Rocco said.

At Focus Features, which runs the Rogue label, distrib chief Jack Foley said they were relieved by the opening of “Unleashed.”

“We were really kind of sweating last week with the estimates and the tracking being what they were but the grosses really came through,” he said. “We’re now equipped with a competitive opening to plunge into the rest of the month.”

‘Crash’ holds strong

Showing considerable durability was “Crash.” Lions Gate distrib head Steven Rothenberg noted that its 21% second week drop was the second best hold of the year behind the 12% drop “Are We There Yet?” had back in January.

“I think ‘Crash’ is going to be the early summer sleeper for adults,” he said.

In the limited market, Paramount Classics had a scorching debut for doc “Mad Hot Ballroom.” Playing two screens in Gotham, pic grossed $45,000 over the three-day span, averaging $22,500 per screen. Label co-head David Dinerstein said, “Not only did it play to a specialized audience, but we also saw families.” Doc expands to six more marketsFriday and the will be on about 45 to 50 screens for the Memorial Day span.

Also opening well was Sony Pictures Classics’ “Layer Cake,” which picked up $82,628 from 10 screens.

Thinkfilm’s Haskell Wexler doc “Tell Them Who You Are” bowed on one screen at L.A.’s Arclight and grossed $5,150.

Among the holdovers, Tartan and TLA’s “Mysterious Skin” continued to play strongly in its second week at the Film Forum, grossing $17,605. That was up slightly from its opening.

Roadside Attractions’ “Ladies in Lavender,” in its third week, found $218,700 from 54 engagements, averaging $4,050 per screen. Cume now stands at $613,220.

Roadside and Samuel Goldwyn’s “Walk on Water” chugged along in its 11th week with $100,205 from 43 screens, bringing its cume past $1.6 million.

IFC’s “Brothers” counted $10,893 in its second week. Playing on three screens, pic averaged $3,631 and pushed its cume to $24,079.

Magnolia’s doc “Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room,” continues to hold well. Playing 119 screens now, it grossed $400,000, for an average of $3,361 per engagement. Cume is now $1.6 million.

In its second week, Laemmle/Zeller’s home run ball mania doc “Up for Grabs” grossed $5,057 from four screens, averaging $1,264.

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