Auds welcome 'Carter'

Paramount’s “Coach Carter” surged ahead of the competition over the first three days of Martin Luther King holiday weekend, scoring a $23.6 million debut and socking the “Fockers.”

The Samuel L. Jackson drama about a basketball coach in an inner-city school played a relatively light run of 2,524 theaters in its opening frame.

Universal’s “Meet the Fockers,” however, didn’t slow down in its fourth week, taking in $19 million, down 37%, bringing the hit’s cume to $230.8 million.

It was followed by the debut of Warner Bros.’ talking animal kidpic “Racing Stripes,” which counted $14million in receipts from 3,185 locations.

Right behind was U’s “In Good Company,” which showed considerable commercial strength in its first week of wide release by grossing $13.9 million from 1,566 engagements. Pic had previously played in just three exclusive engagements since Dec. 29. Cume is now $14.4 million.

20th Century Fox’s comicbook adaptation “Elektra,” starring Jennifer Garner, was a little slow leaving the gate, with $12.5 million from 3,204 venues, which was good for the No. 5 spot.

Not too far behind it was U’s Michael Keaton thriller “White Noise,” which sank 52% in its sophomore session to $12.2 million, bringing its cume to $41.2 million. Pic was produced and financed by Gold Circle.

Par distrib prexy Wayne Lewellen said “Carter” overperformed by playing a bit older than normal for pics produced by MTV Films.

Studio exit polls showed 55% of the aud was under age 25 and 53% were female.

“Normally, you get a much younger audience (for this kind of film),” he said. “We ended up getting a much larger female audience than we thought given that it’s a sports movie.”

MTV Films prexy Van Toffler added, “It’s definitely bigger than we thought it would open. We didn’t anticipate it would play as broadly as it did.”

He noted that pic benefited from significant promotion on the MTV stable of cable nets. Special spots for the film were cut to run on the network, and the video for soundtrack single “Hope” by Twista and Faith Evans received wide airplay.

“Carter” also marks the third time an MTV Film has opened successfully over the Martin Luther King holiday weekend, following 2001’s “Save the Last Dance” and 1999’s “Varsity Blues.”

As Par undergoes a management change with Brad Grey taking the reins from Sherry Lansing, “Carter” is the third straight opening that Par execs can smile about on Sunday morning.

U’s “In Good Company” became the best expansion for a holiday pic that started with limited play.

“The strategy really worked,” said U’s distrib chief Nikki Rocco. “We knew when we platformed it that the exit polls showed the word of mouth would be great.”

Overall biz was strong, as Nielsen estimated total three-day box office at $135 million, up 18% over the same period last weekend.

Limited releases

In the limited arena, the two new pics did moderate biz. Miramax debuted “The Chorus” on two screens and saw results of $15,808, averaging $7,904 per screen. Geneon Entertainment started “Appleseed” on 31 screens and grossed $78,718, averaging $2,539.

Among the holdovers, Warners’ “Million Dollar Baby” saw $1.74 million from 122 locations, averaging a stout $14,262 per screen and bringing cume on the Clint Eastwood boxing drama to $5.6 million.

MGM and United Artists’ “Hotel Rwanda” grossed $1.55 million from 192 screens, for an average of $8,073, and boosting cume to $3.7 million.

Fox Searchlight’s “Sideways” grossed $2.2 million from 370 screens, averaging $5,946, and brought its cume to $26.1 million.

Newmarket’s “The Woodsman” continued its moderate run, taking in $214,000 over the weekend from 62 screens, averaging $3,453. Cume now stands at $655,282.

Warner Independent Pictures’ “A Very Long Engagement” saw $525,000 from 219 venues, an average of $2,400 per screen. Cume on the Audrey Tautou starrer is now $4.4 million.

Also with a cume of $4.4 million is Lions Gate’s Kevin Spacey starrer “Beyond the Sea,” which grossed $600,000 over the weekend. Playing on 383 screens, biopic averaged $1,567 a screen.

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