Smith unhitched as Lions Gate pic scores

“Diary of a Mad Black Woman” made a bold bow at No. 1 with a $22.7 million opening, according to studio estimates.

At No. 2, Sony’s reigning champ “Hitch” rang up $21 million in its third week, lifting cume to $122 million.

Lions Gate released “Diary” in just 1,483 theaters (average: $15,306), less than half of the Will Smith starrer’s 3,571 and well under the weekend’s other new wide releases. Distrib will expand the run next Friday.

Comedy is the first adaptation of a Tyler Perry stage play for the bigscreen. Perry has starred, written and produced a highly successful series of traveling shows featuring the Madea Simmons character featured in “Diary.”

Lions Gate plans to adapt other Perry plays into films.

Order of finish may still change when final figures are released on Monday. Since the Oscarcast tends to depress box office on Sunday evening, and all estimates are made on Sunday morning, this weekend’s estimates involve more guesswork than normal.

At No. 3 was Warner Bros.’ “Constantine,” which grossed $11.8 million in its second week, off 60% from its opening.

The frame’s other new wide releases rounded out the top five, with Dimension’s “Cursed” in the No. 4 spot with $9.6 million from 2,805 theaters. While horror has been hot at the box office, the Wes Craven-helmed pic did not pop in its first frame.

At No. 5, Revolution and Sony’s Tommy Lee Jones laffer “Man of the House” bowed with $9 million from 2,422 locations.

‘Diary’ pages auds

Tracking on “Diary” had been positive but didn’t seem to suggest a bow past $20 million. When ticket sales started coming in from Friday shows, which grossed more than $7 million, industryites were stunned to see that “Diary” had surpassed “Hitch.” It was not clear until Sunday morning when numbers were released by distribs who was going to win the weekend.

But Lions Gate co-prexy Tom Ortenberg thought “Diary” would open big all along. “It’s no surprise to us that we’re No. 1. We knew we were going to outperform the tracking.”

In the transition to the bigscreen, Perry brought a loyal fanbase of churchgoing African-Americans. This weekend, Ortenberg said, “The largest demographic was African-American females over 25.” He believes the pic has strong crossover appeal as well.

Lions Gate will put another Perry pic in production in July. “We think we have a franchise on our hands,” Ortenberg said.

Oscar contenders shine

In the last days before the Oscars, the key contenders continued to do strong biz. Warners’ “Million Dollar Baby” was at No. 6 with $7.2 million, raising cume to $64.7 million.

Miramax and Warners’ “The Aviator” landed in ninth place with $3.9 million; cume is $93.8 million. Fox Searchlight’s “Sideways,” now in its 19th week of release, grossed $3.5 million (cume: $63.1 million). Miramax’s “Finding Neverland” made $1.8 million, taking cume to $48.1 million.

In the limited market, Sony Pictures Classics opened “Up and Down” on six screens and grossed $30,142, averaging $5,024.

Among Sony Classics holdovers, “Being Julia” took in $803,762 on 328 screens, an average of $2,450, pushing cume to just over $7 million.

Newmarket did well in the second week of German Oscar entry “Downfall,” which grossed $68,159 on four screens, an average of $17,040. Cume is now $107,549, and distrib plans to expand the pic to about 50 screens on March 11.

Doc keeps swallowing

Universal kept “Inside Deep Throat” on 27 screens for the doc’s third week and grossed $84,000, an average of $3,111 per venue. Cume stands at $401,000.

Miramax’s “Bride and Prejudice” added 124 screens for its third week and grossed $860,940 from 156 engagements, for an average of $5,519 (cume: $1.8 million).

Thinkfilm doc “Born Into Brothels” took in $155,300 in its 12th week. Playing on 41 screens, pic averaged $3,788 and has cumed $743,318.

IFC’s “Turtles Can Fly,” in its second frame, saw $14,942 from four screens, an average of $3,736, pushing cume to $59,904. Distrib also had “Nobody Knows,” in its fourth week, with $74,324 form 22 screens, an average of $3,378. Cume on the Japanese pic is $324,714.

Magnolia’s martial arts pic “Ong Bak: The Thai Warrior,” playing 181 theaters in its third week, picked up another $375,000 to up cume to $3.4 million.

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