'Hostage' fails to captivate

“Robots” came to life over the weekend as the launch of Fox’s CGI toon easily took the top spot with an estimated $36.5 million at 3,776 playdates.

But moviegoers showed only moderate interest in Miramax’s “Hostage,” which grossed $9.8 million at 2,123 engagements, and showed no passion for Newmarket’s “The Passion Recut,” with a near-invisible $232,499 at 954 sites.

“Robots” connected with its target audience, with 76% of moviegoers families and 44% under 12. Fox distribution chief Bruce Snyder said the studio believes the $75 million pic will perform well in the coming weeks, with spring break giving a bounce to moviegoing by families generally and kids specifically.

Snyder pointed to a 55% jump in Saturday biz for “Robots” from Friday to $15.5 million as an indicator of strong word of mouth.

“Robots” might have approached Fox’s $46.3 million launch in the same weekend of 2002 of “Ice Age” had it not faced stout competish for family coin from Disney/Spyglass’ “The Pacifier,” which generated solid returns with $18.1 million at 3,166 playdates in its soph sesh. The Vin Diesel vehicle declined 41% from its opening weekend and has cumed $54.4 million.

MGM’s second frame of “Be Cool” finished third with $10.3 million at 3,216 sites. Pic, which declined by 56%, has cumed $38.4 million and probably won’t match the $72 million take of the original “Get Shorty.”

“Hostage” drew a 65% male audience; distrib plans to bulk up the Bruce Willis actioner with an additional 150 to 200 sites next weekend.

‘Hitch’ hangs tough

Sony’s durable “Hitch” came in a solid fifth in its fifth weekend with $8.7 million at 2.975 screens, down just 28%. The Will Smith comedy’s 31-day total is $149.8 million.

Warner/Lakeshore’s 13th weekend of “Million Dollar Baby” finished sixth with $5.1 million at 2,375 engagements, down 38% from the previous weekend. “Baby” has cumed $84 million, including $19 million since its best picture Oscar win Feb. 27.

“Million Dollar Baby” has been the only wide-release film to see a notable Academy Award bounce. Miramax/Warner’s “The Aviator,” which won five Oscars, grossed $1.4 million at 1,002 sites to lift its cume to $99 million; Fox Searchlight’s “Sideways,” which won the adapted screenplay Oscar, took in $1.3 million at 807 to push its total take to $68.1 million.

“Million Dollar Baby” edged the third weekend of Lions Gate’s “Diary of a Mad Black Woman,” whose $5 million at 1,605 sites lifted its cume to a surprising $44.1 million.

Rounding out the top 10 were Warner’s fourth frame of “Constantine” with $3.7 million at 2,170 playdates and the third seshes of Sony’s “Man of the House,” with $1.8 million at 1,903 screens, and Dimension’s “Cursed,” with $1.6 million at 1,687.

As for “The Passion Recut,” Newmarket had been hopeful that a $4 million weekend was achievable, but audiences apparently had no appetite for Mel Gibson’s less violent version in the wake of a $370 million domestic gross last spring for “The Passion of the Christ” plus its DVD launch in August. Newmarket’s Bob Berney noted “Recut” biz could improve as Easter approaches on March 27.

Year-to-date slippage

Overall weekend business totaled $110 million, according to Nielsen EDI, down 11% from last weekend and off 6% from the same weekend last year, when the third weekend of “Passion” led with $32.1 million. As a result, the 2005 year-to-date total of $1.564 billion is now slightly lagging the same point a year ago by 0.4%.

Comedies, which have won seven of 10 weekends this year, remained the dominant contributor, with the four laffers in the first five slots grossing a combined $73.6 million.

Smaller releases

New Line saw nothing but happiness from its platform launch of romantic comedy “The Upside of Anger” with $225,783 at nine playdates. The Kevin Costner-Joan Allen starrer will expand to 150 sites next weekend and go wide April 1.

On the arthouse side, Fox Searchlight posted solid returns from Danny Boyle’s family comedy “Millions” with $72,987 at five screens and will add 14 sites next weekend.

ThinkFilm’s “Born Into Brothels,” continuing to benefit from its documentary Oscar, took in $377,345 at 124 sites as it added 59 locations. Cume has hit $1.53 million.

First Look Media’s launch of Irish comedy “The Boys and Girl of County Clare” generated moderate takings with $22,400 at seven sites. Samuel Goldwyn/Roadside Attractions’ soph sesh of “Walk on Water” saw respectable biz with $66,755 at 13 engagements.

Sony Classics’ opening of South African political drama “In My Country” grossed a lukewarm $23,000 at nine sites. Dada/First Independent’s dark comedy “Mail Order Wife” launched well with $16,000 at two screens.

Miramax’s fifth weekend of “Bride and Prejudice” saw solid biz with $788,244 at 282 screens, lifting the cume to $3.8 million. Distrib’s soph sesh of “Dear Frankie” grossed $69,104 at 14 sites; its second frame of “Best of Youth” took in $8,720 at one screen.

Universal’s fifth frame of “Inside Deep Throat” grossed a moderate $29,000 at 16 playdates to lift cume to $532,000. U’s been pulling the docu from sites over the last two weekends.

Next weekend will see DreamWorks’ launch of “The Ring Two,” starring Naomi Watts, and Disney’s opening of family comedy/drama “Ice Princess.”

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