WB’s ‘Chocolate’ in the chips

Willy Wonka's weekend mints $55 mil

Two big openings over the weekend — “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” started out with $55.4 million and “Wedding Crashers” bowed with $32.2 million — kept the marketplace healthy for the second week in a row.

Warner Bros. opened “Charlie” in 3,770 theaters while New Line bowed “Crashers” at 2,925.

Remake of the 1971 kidpic drew the biggest opening for star Johnny Depp, surpassing the bow for 2003’s “Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl.” Opening for “Charlie” is also the best for a PG-rated pic in July.

Meanwhile, “Crashers” performed well for an R-rated pic. The last R film to open bigger than the Vince Vaughn-Owen Wilson laffer was last summer’s “Troy.”

Facing stiff competition from the frame’s new pics, last week’s champ, 20th Century Fox’s “Fantastic Four,” tumbled 59% in its sophomore session, grossing $22.7 million over the frame. Still, cume for the comicbook pic is now $100.1 million.

Behind it in the No. 4 spot was Paramount and DreamWorks’ “War of the Worlds” with $15 million, bringing cume on the Steven Spielberg-Tom Cruise alien invasion film to $192.2 million.

Warners’ “Batman Begins” rounded out the top five with $5.6 million in its fifth frame. Pic has made $182.7 million so far in its domestic run.

But Warners was celebrating “Charlie” as its biggest opening of the year so far. Distrib prexy Dan Fellman said demographics showed the pic played well with the family aud, with 54% of the crowds under age 18, which will hopefully give the pic legs before schools open.

“We have a lot of room given the competition in the marketplace,” he said.

Pic also marked the best Imax debut, with $2.2 million over the three-day span — better than the $2.1 million rung up last October by “The Polar Express,” which had been the top-grossing Hollywood title in the format.

“Charlie” nailed its number despite media speculation that the release of the latest “Harry Potter” tome would keep its core aud at home reading this weekend.

Fellman said there was no way to measure whether opening would have been bigger had the book, which sold 6.9 million copies in the U.S., not been released this weekend.

‘Wedding’ bliss

New Line execs said that “Crashers” played as well as they hoped, with signs that it picked up the date crowd.

“It was exactly what we hoped for,” said New Line marketing topper Russell Schwartz. “The whole weekend was 50-50 male-female. By age, it was about 60% over 25 on Friday and then about 60% over 25 on Saturday. So there’s your date movie.”

Schwartz credited the pic’s strong reviews for bringing the older adults. “We were looking for a minimum of $25 million. The reviews jumped the older audience and probably accounted for the additional box office.”

Though “Fantastic Four” dropped steeply in its second week, Fox execs were still in a jubilant mood as they crossed $1 billion in domestic box office for the year.

“It’s the second fastest in history, four days after Sony’s 2002,” said distrib chief Bruce Snyder.

Overall box office was running ahead of last year’s frame, with Nielsen EDI’s estimate of $159 million 3.8% better than 2004’s number.

Year-to-date box office still lags, though, with the $4.751 billion in 2005 8.1% behind last year through this point. And the summer season’s $2.25 billion total is 10.5% lower than last year’s numbers.

Powerful little ‘Penguins’

In the limited arena, Warner Independent’s “March of the Penguins” continues to put up formidable numbers. After expanding to 132 screens this weekend, pic grossed $1.344 million — an average of $10,182 per screen — and pushed cume to $3.84 million.

Distrib chief Steven Friedlander said the pic’s success rests on the family market. “It’s working in malls, commercial houses, even arthouses. There isn’t a whole lot in the market right now for little kids.”

Warner Independent will push “Penguins” out to more than 600 screens this coming Friday. “We are starting to run TV commercials this week,” he said, “and a lot of them are geared to the family audience.”

Paramount Classic’s doc “Mad Hot Ballroom” entered the all-time top 10 for docs this weekend with a cume of $5.3 million. Playing 180 screens in its 10th frame, pic grossed $360,843 for a per screen average of $2,005.

Par Classics also snuck “Hustle & Flow” this weekend on 102 screens in 40 markets, preparing for its release this Friday on more than 1,000 screens.

New this weekend was Lions Gate’s “Happy Endings,” which took in $235,000 from 52 screens for an average of $4,519 per screen.

Miramax also unspooled “The Warrior” on four screens, collecting $13,067 or $3,267 per screen.

Among the holdovers, Sony Classics’ “Saraband” grossed $34,600 off six screens in its second frame for an average of $5,767; cume is $88,573. Also in its soph sesh, label’s “The Beautiful Country” found $34,155 over the weekend. Playing 13 engagements, pic averaged $2,627 per screen and brought its cume to $71,065.

In its fifth frame, IFC’s “Me and You and Everyone We Know” grossed $352,103 off 97 screens, averaging $3,630; cume is $1.4 million.

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