Romance tops middling frame

No pic generated particularly spectacular box office this past weekend, but the frame managed to see some improvement over last year.

DreamWorks’ Reese Witherspoon romancer “Just Like Heaven” secured the top spot with $16.2 million from 3,508 theaters, which was on the low end of industry expectations.

That beat out the second week for Sony’s “The Exorcism of Emily Rose,” which finished at No. 2 with $15.3 million, just a 49% dip in its sophomore session. Cume on the litigious scarer is now $52 million.

Lions Gate’s Nicolas Cage arms dealer drama “Lord of War” bowed in third with $9.2 million at 2,814. Opening was also somewhat lower than expected.

“Heaven” and “War” largely split male and female auds. Exit polls showed the “Heaven” aud was 77% female, the “War” aud 60% male. Both films skewed older, however, with 52% over age 25 for the PG-13-rated “Heaven” and 60% over 25 for “War.”

In the No. 4 spot was Universal’s durable laffer “The 40-Year-Old Virgin,” down just 24% to $5.8 million in its fifth week of release. That lifts cume just past the $90 million mark.

The frame’s other new wide pic, Rogue Pictures’ frightener “Cry Wolf,” bowed in fifth place with $4.6 million from 1,789 venues. Opening just short of wide, Dimension’s own scary movie “Venom” started with $500,751 off 489 screens, well out of the top 10.

‘Corpse’ revives B.O.

The most impressive action over the frame came in the limited arena. In preparation for its wide release this coming Friday, Warner Bros. unspooled “Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride” on five screens this weekend and reeled in $411,353, or a whopping $82,271 per engagement.

Warners distrib topper Dan Fellman said the initial theaters pulled more adults, but he expects kids to cotton to the stop-action title before the pic bows at 3,000-plus theaters this Friday.

Among the more specialized pics opening this weekend, Miramax’s “Proof” posted the best screen average, bowing with $200,868 from eight screens, or $25,109 per. Title, which went out under both the Miramax and the Weinstein Co. banners, will expand into the top 20 markets this coming weekend, the last before Bob and Harvey Weinstein split from their Walt Disney subsidiary.

Better than last year

Nielsen EDI’s estimate of $86 million for the frame’s total box office was 11.5% higher than the same frame last year. Last year’s comparison frame was decidedly lackluster. “Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow” topped the chart with a $15.6 million opening. Other pics bowing were “Mr. 3000″ with $8.7 million and “Wimbledon” at $7.1 million.

After a disappointing summer, grosses through the first two fall frames are running 7.7% higher than last year. Nevertheless, the year-to-date total of $6.239 billion is still 7% behind 2004, although that gap has begun to inch closer over these past two weeks. DreamWorks distrib prexy Jim Tharp acknowledged “Heaven” did not bow at the levels industry estimates had anticipated, but he added he was encouraged by the good aud reaction to the $58 million-budgeted pic in exit polls.

“Clearly, we needed more romantically minded males to show up when you look at the 77% females,” he said. “But the exit information would indicate a strong hold going forward, and the word of mouth should bring in more males.”

Though “War” was produced for $50 million, Lions Gate acquired the pic in a distribution deal. Distrib topper Steve Rothenberg simply said, “It’s a solid opening.”

No crying over ‘Wolf’

While the “Cry Wolf” numbers weren’t overwhelming, Focus Features distrib head Jack Foley said he was satisfied with the company’s genre arm title given the frightener’s $1 million budget. “It’s a successful weekend based on our business model,” he said. Helmer-scribe Jeff Wadlow won that budget in a contest originally sponsored by Universal and Chrysler.

Marketing campaign on the PG-13-rated pic had targeted high school kids, and Foley said the exit surveys showed that 66% of the aud was under age 21. Demos also showed the film skewed heavily femme, with surveys finding 64% of the aud was female, which follows the trends for recent scary fare.

Focus also had a good third week with “The Constant Gardener,” down just 22% to $3.7 million. That placed the pic No. 7 for the frame and raised cume to $24.4 million.

Sony distrib prexy Rory Bruer said he was pleased with the second weekend of “Emily Rose.”

“It speaks to the broad appeal of the film,” Bruer said. “To be at $52 million 10 days into a film that cost less than $20 million is really good.”

At No. 8 was DreamWorks’ “Red Eye,” which has also held well. Playing its fifth frame, pic grabbed $2.9 million over the weekend, down 35% from last weekend, pushing cume to $55.3 million.

In ninth was Warner Independent’s “March of the Penguins” which crossed the $70 million milestone in its 13th frame. Nature doc took in $2.6 million, down just 3%; cume is $70.4 million.

Specialty bows

Opening in limited release this weekend was WIP’s Elijah Wood-starring tome adaptation “Everything Is Illuminated,” which scored $73,600 from six Gotham and L.A. screens, for an average of $12,267 per screen. Pic will expand this Friday into the top eight or 10 markets.

Fox Searchlight launched Brit crime drama “Separate Lies” to $23,209 from two Gotham screens, averaging $11,605. Pic opens in L.A. and Toronto on Friday.

Sony Pictures Classics’ “Thumbsucker” bowed with $93,579 from nine bicoastal engagements, averaging $10,398 each.

Aloha Releasing’s “G,” a hip-hop version of “The Great Gatsby,” did well in its first outing, scoring $252,243 from 42 locations. Andrew Lauren Prods. title bowed first in theaters that draw predominantly African-American crowds in D.C., Baltimore, Memphis and Norfolk, Va., and will now expand.

Picturehouse started “The Thing About My Folks” on 93 screens and grossed $265,658 for an average of $2,857.

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