But will monkey business keep swinging?

The big ape is already catching a second wind.

Swinging to a respectable weekend after a weaker-than-expected start on Wednesday, “King Kong” grossed $50.1 million Friday-Sunday; five-day cume was $66.2 million. “King Kong” averaged $14,055 per play at 3,568 locations.

Universal is pinning its hopes on “Kong’s” strongest stat: a 40% jump from Friday to Saturday. That’s significantly better than any of the “Lord of the Rings” pics, all of which also opened Wednesday a week before Christmas.

“This movie is setting its own pattern,” asserted Marc Shmuger, U vice chairman in charge of worldwide marketing and distribution. “It’s a new one for those of us in the business and who study it. Who knows where it could go?”

Another potentially good piece of news for U: After debuting Wednesday with a primarily young-male skew, aud for “Kong” was 47% female and 55% over 25 Saturday. Drawing women who may initially resist an effects-heavy tentpole is key to pic’s playability.

“Wednesday and Thursday were nail-biters,” Shmuger admitted. “It’s clearly building a head of steam. If we can keep building, it’s going to have a great outcome.”

Unusual perf for “Kong” means it could take any number of paths. Other pics that opened around $50 million have typically cumed less than $200 million.

Big jump on Saturday, however, could portend better-than-average legs. “The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring,” for instance, ultimately grossed $313 million domestic, while “Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl” went on from a $70.6 million five-day debut to cume $305 million.

“Kong” also will be helped, as have other pics that opened the week before Christmas, as more kids and college students get out of school in the next several days, as well as by the end of holiday shopping.

Meanwhile, Fox’s “The Family Stone” opened to a modest $12.7 million.

Fox’s strategy of counterprogramming with “Stone” seemed to work well, as pic drew a 77% female aud; 51% of moviegoers were femmes over 25.

“These are almost sneak previews,” Fox domestic distrib prexy Bruce Snyder said of the pre-Christmas frame. “Over-25 females are a tough audience to get out now, and I think this bodes very well for when the holiday hits.”

Average for “Stone” was $5,160 at 2,466 playdates.

Disney and Walden’s “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” declined 52% in its second frame, grossing $31.2 million on 3,680 playdates for an average of $8,474. Cume is $112.5 million.

Lagging tentpole pix

While much better than its opening day indicated, the “Kong” take is still well behind other tentpoles that bowed with huge expectations.

“Fellowship,” to which U execs modestly compared their pic before it opened, had a slightly worse weekend four years ago but did a little better over five days thanks to a stronger Wednesday and Thursday.

Both Peter Jackson-helmed nonsequel event pics opened the same date. While ticket prices were lower when “Fellowship” bowed in 2001, more kids were out of school.

Worldwide gross for “Kong,” which opened day-and-date in virtually all major territories, was $146 million over five days and $114 million for the weekend. That places it just outside the top 10 for four- and five-day global bows.

“Syriana” fell 53% in its second weekend. WB’s political thriller made $5.5 million, putting it in fifth place. Average was $3,079 in 1,775 theaters. Total take is now $22.3 million.

‘Potter’ passes predecessor

Fifth frame of “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire” landed just ahead of “Syriana” at No. 4. Warner kidlit adaptation took $5.9 million on 3,185 plays for an average of $1,854. Cume is now $252.5 million, moving it ahead of last year’s franchise entry “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.”

“Walk the Line” and “Yours, Mine and Ours” continue to show some of the best legs of the holiday season.

Fox’s Johnny Cash biopic fell just 37% in its fifth weekend, taking $3.6 million and sixth place. Average was $1,361 at 2,664 playdates; cume is $82.5 million.

Just behind it in the No. 7 spot was Par’s “Yours,” which declined only 32%. Carving out a successful family comedy niche in the crowded market, pic made $3.4 million for the weekend in 2,723 theaters for an average of $1,254. Total take is $45.1 million.

Weekend take was up a healthy 18% from a year ago, when “Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events,” “Spanglish” and “Flight of the Phoenix” all bowed to disappointing takes. For the year, overall biz is still down 5%.

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