‘Flight’ control

Jodie pic jets; 'Corpse' a bridesmaid

For the first time in September, two new wide releases opened higher than $20 million. Walt Disney’s “Flightplan” won the weekend, opening with $24.6 million from 3,424 locations; and Warner Bros.’ animated title “Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride,” scored $20.1 million for the frame after expanding in its second week from five to 3,204 engagements.

“Corpse Bride’s” debut repped the biggest opening in September for an animated film.

Also opening over the weekend was Fox Searchlight’s “Roll Bounce,” which found $8 million from 1,625 locations, good for the No. 4 spot.

The two helped push the overall weekend cume to $98 million, according to Nielsen EDI’s estimate, which is 39% bigger than the same frame last year when total grosses were just $70.6 million.

Last year, Julianne Moore thriller “The Forgotten” led the frame with its $21 million bow.

The fall season, which so far has seen grosses of $332.7 million since after Labor Day, is running 15.6% ahead of fall 2004. Even so, distrib execs said they believed Hurricane Rita had an impact at the box office, since so much of the Gulf Coast was either damaged or evacuated throughout the weekend.

The surplus over last year has narrowed the year-to-date gap to 6.5%, with total grosses standing at $6.36 billion.

Leading the holdovers was last week’s champ, DreamWorks’ “Just Like Heaven,” with $9.8 million, in third place on the chart, down 40% from its opening, bringing cume to $30 million. Rounding out the top five was Sony’s “The Exorcism of Emily Rose,” which brought in $7.5 million in its third frame, lifting its cume to $62.3 million.

Lions Gate’s “Lord of War,” in its sophomore session, dropped 48% to $4.9 million, which put it in sixth place and pushed the cume to $17.2 million.

Rogue’s “Cry Wolf,” also in its soph sesh, brought in $2.1 million, which is a 52% dip, and puts its cume at $7.4 million.

Taking ‘Flight’

Going into the weekend, most industry predictions were for “Flightplan,” produced by Brian Grazer and Imagine, to come in second to “Corpse Bride.”

“It lived up to our expectations,” said Disney distrib prexy Chuck Viane, “and it exceeded the prediction levels of others. The studio had great expectations when we picked the weekend because it’s a great launching pad for the film to play into the fall.”

Exit surveys showed the pic was a date pick, with 66% of the aud made up of couples. Backing that up, the audience was 51% female. By age, polls showed the aud was 70% ages 18 to 49, while 21% were teens.

Storm’s effect

Viane said that he suspected the storm in the Gulf had an impact on the opening, but did not know yet how much.

“We do know that Houston had theaters that were down and now are open. And Galveston was closed all weekend,” he said. “But we haven’t had direct contact with the circuits, so we won’t know the answer until the morning.”

Warners distrib chief Dan Fellman agreed, adding “It had to have an impact. But I’m not sure how many (theaters) closed and how many bounced back.”

Nevertheless, the studio was pleased with “Corpse Bride’s” opening. “We’re thrilled with the film and we’re well positioned to play over the next few weeks.”

Surveys showed the aud was primarily families for “Bride’s” opening weekend. But Fellman said he expected the pic to bring in more adults in later weeks. “I think we’ll broaden out as the word of mouth and the reviews get out,” he said.

Limited success

In the limited arena, New Line saw David Cronenberg’s “A History of Violence,” starring Viggo Mortensen, bow strongly with $504,000 from 14 screens for a stout screen average of $36,000.

Also opening before heading for wide release was Roman Polanski’s “Oliver Twist,” which Sony said brought in $68,635 from five engagements in Gotham, Los Angeles and Toronto. Pic averaged $13,727 per screen.

Also opening this frame was Rumur Releasing’s “Occupation Dreamland,” which scored $10,000 from a solo Gotham screen.

Miramax’s “Daltry Calhoun” failed to make much of an impact, grossing $7,358 in its first weekend from 13 screens, for a thin average of $566 per screen.

Miramax had better luck with “Proof,” which is also being distribbed by the Weinstein Co. Playing in its second frame, pic grossed $842,944 after expanding to 84 screens by keeping its screen average at $10,035. Cume now stands at $1.1 million.

Among the shingle’s other titles in release, “An Unfinished Life” picked up just less than $1.7 million from 888 screens after expanding in its third week, for an average of $1,895. Cume is now $5.7 million.

Fox Searchlight’s “Separate Lies,” also in its second weekend, stayed in its two Gotham screens and grossed $19,214, for an average of $9,607. Warner Independent’s “Everything Is Illuminated,” in its second weekend, found $130,811 on 26 screens for an average of $5,031. Cume is $223,805.

Sony Pictures Classics’ “Thumbsucker” grossed $114,098 in its second frame. Playing 28 screens, it averaged $4,075 and lifted its cume to $234,544.

Also from the distrib, “Junebug” crossed the $2 million milestone this weekend, its eighth. Playing 136 venues, “Junebug” grossed $227,615.

Aloha Releasing’s gangsta Gatsby pic “G” stayed strong in its initial 42 bookings, grossing $144,687 over the three-day span, which works out to $3,445 per screen.

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