‘Hitch’ richer as Keanu raises hell

Smith pic strikes it rich in 2nd week

“Hitch,” Sony’s romantic comedy starring Will Smith, racked up another $36.5 million over the four-day weekend, advancing cume to $94.8 million. Pic’s perf was down just 27% on a three-day basis from its big opening last weekend.

Close behind was Keanu Reeves in comicbook adaptation “Constantine,” which posted a better-than-expected four-day opening of $34.6 million. Warner Bros. unspooled the pic at 3,006 locations.

Warners noted the “Constantine” bow is the best ever for an R-rated pic over any four-day frame.

Also opening this weekend, 20th Century Fox dog pic “Because of Winn-Dixie” fetched $13.2 million from 3,188 theaters while New Line’s “Son of the Mask” looted $10.1 million at 2,966 venues. Pics ranked No. 3 and No. 4, respectively.

On the limited front, Universal’s doc “Inside Deep Throat” continued to attract interest despite its NC-17 rating. Widened to 27 screens this week (from 12 in its debut last week), the Brian Grazer-produced pic grossed $155,000, a per screen average of $5,740.

Rounding out the top five was Revolution and Sony’s “Are We There Yet?” which picked up $8.1 million in its fifth frame, boosting cume on the Ice Cube laffer to $71.1 million.

In the sixth spot, Warners’ “Million Dollar Baby” is still picking up biz ahead of next weekend’s Oscar ceremony. Playing in its 10th week, Clint Eastwood boxing drama grossed $7.8 million over four days, lifting cume to $55.3 million.

Other kudos hopefuls in the top 10 were Miramax and Warners’ “The Aviator,” in ninth place with $5 million (cume: $89 million), and Fox Searchlight’s “Sideways,” in 10th place with $4.9 million (cume: $59.1 million).

Sony distrib prexy Rory Bruer was pleasantly surprised by “Hitch’s” strong soph sesh. “Did we expect to be No. 1? No we didn’t. But we expected a very strong hold,” he said. “The exits as well as the cinema scores have been terrific.”

Bruer added, “It’s not only playing as a romantic comedy, but as a broad comedy.”

Sci-fi flies

Despite losing the top spot to “Hitch,” “Constantine” finished toward the high end of expectations for the sci-fi pic and is the third biggest opening over the President’s Day frame, following the $45.1 million four-day bow for “50 First Dates” last year and $45 million for “Daredevil” the year before.

Unlike both those films, “Constantine” was rated R, but it still compares favorably to other late winter and early spring sci-fi fare that went out with PG-13 or below. For instance, last April, comicbook adaptation “Hellboy” opened with $23.7 million while “The Punisher” debuted at $13.8 million. (For comparison purposes, the “Constantine” three-day total was $29.7 million.)

Warners distrib chief Dan Fellman said exit polls found the aud skewed male, as expected, with 56% of those attending. Polls also showed 51% of the aud was under age 25.

The other two new films on the frame split the family aud. Fox distrib topper Bruce Snyder said studio polls showed 81% of the aud for “Because of Winn-Dixie” was children under 12 and their parents. Similarly, “Son of the Mask” had heavy family traffic.

Price comparison

But that’s where the similarities end. Fox said the budget on the canine kidpic was just $14 million, while “Mask” carried an extraordinarily hefty $84 million pricetag. New Line noted, however, that it was responsible for $20 million of that in North America while foreign partners ponied up the rest. Studio also noted that pic is of a genre that’s done well on DVD.

While the opening may not be commensurate with the budget, the franchise redux was on par with the last attempt by New Line to restart a Jim Carrey franchise without Carrey: 2003’s “Dumb and Dumberer” opened at $10.8 million on its way to a $26.3 million U.S. cume.

Overall, this weekend’s two $30 million-plus titles kept the marketplace running hot. Nielsen EDI estimated total box office over the four-day frame at $157 million, an 8% improvement over the President’s Day frame in 2004, which incidentally also included Valentine’s Day.

Also, the biz made its first billion in 2005 this weekend with year-to-date grosses now at $1.121 billion, a 13.4% improvement over the same period in 2004. While it’s taken seven weeks to cross the billion bar this year, it took eight in 2004.

Upbeat ‘Downfall’ bow

Among the limited openings, Newmarket’s “Downfall” bowed big with $24,045 over the four-day frame from its exclusive Film Forum booking in Gotham. Newmarket topper Bob Berney reported that the gross reflected sellouts throughout the frame.

Playing in its second week, Rialto’s reissue of Jean-Luc Godard’s “Masculine Feminine” (as they’ve billed it) also did strong biz at the Film Forum this weekend, racking up $16,740. Pic’s expansion to the Colorado One in Pasadena was less lucrative, grossing just $1,270. Cume stands at $68,234.

Also opening was IFC’s “Turtles Can Fly” with $27,717 on four screens. Over the three-day span, pic averaged $5,355 per screen. (All screen averages cited are for three days unless otherwise noted.)

Distrib’s Japanese title “Nobody Knows” expanded to 21 screens and grossed $113,130 over the long weekend, averaging $3,577.

Paramount Classics unspooled “Schultze Gets the Blues” on four screens for $18,000, averaging $4,500 per screen over four days.

MGM and United Artists’ “Hotel Rwanda” grossed a shade under $2.2 million over the four-day span from its 630 screens, averaging $2,802. Cume is now a bit over $17.1 million.

Extreme ‘Prejudice’

In its second week, Miramax’s “Bride and Prejudice” continued to see healthy returns, with $383,030 from 32 screens for the holiday frame. Results kept screen averages in five figures, with $10,017 per engagement. Cume is $881,159.

Magnolia’s martial arts pic “Ong Bak: The Thai Warrior,” playing its second week on 361 screens, grossed $880,000 over the long weekend, averaging $2,022 and pushing cume to $2.8 million.

Thinkfilm’s “Born Into Brothels,” on 32 screens in its 11th week, grossed $188,183 and boosted cume to $555,894.

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