‘Prestige’ does the trick

'Departed' hangs tough as Clint plants his 'Flags'

Fall is upon us: Three serious-minded pics with awards aspirations were tops at the B.O. over the weekend.

“The Prestige,” Christopher Nolan’s period piece about competing magicians, landed at No. 1, while Martin Scorsese’s “The Departed” and Clint Eastwood’s “Flags of Our Fathers” also did solid biz.

And though it’s sewn up its U.S. run, summer hit “The Devil Wears Prada” is having a torrid run in Europe. Pic won its third straight weekend overseas with $19 million as the fashionista comedy showed the same kind of strong legs it demonstrated during its domestic run. Foreign cume has hit $104 million, lifting the worldwide take to $228 million (see story, page 52).

Stateside, Disney’s “Prestige” conjured $14.8 million from 2,281 playdates for a per-engagement average of $6,496.

Mouse House distribution exec Chuck Viane said that older auds made up roughly a third of “The Prestige” turnout, adding that the pic benefited from positive reviews, as well as a following for “Batman Begins” helmer Nolan.

“Departed,” from Warner Bros., meanwhile, slid just 28% in its third frame. Star-studded cop drama added $13.6 million over the weekend to hit $77.1 million, and is now on track to become Scorsese’s highest-grossing film ever. Pic is playing in just over 3,000 precincts.

Paramount is taking a slow-and-steady approach with “Flags,” which the studio unfurled at 1,876 in an attempt to mirror the perfs of previous Eastwood pics, “Mystic River” and “Million Dollar Baby.” WWII epic planted $10.2 million for a healthy per engagement average of $ $5,437.

Perf of “Flags” — co-produced by Par and DreamWorks — was on par with that of Eastwood’s 2003 effort “Mystic River,” which opened on 1,470 to take in $10.4 million on its way to $90 million-plus.

“Million Dollar Baby” bowed in 2004 at 2,000, nailing a $12.3 million first frame before wrapping up $100.5 million and a best pic Oscar.

According to exit polls, 80% of “Flags” auds were over 30 — a demo that doesn’t typically run to the movies in their opening frames — and 55% were men.

Par, meanwhile, is undecided how much it will expand “Flags” next frame: prexy of worldwide marketing Rob Moore said the studio would be pow-wowing with Eastwood — who has been hands-on in all “Flags” decisions — on Monday morning to mull any immediate expansion.

“Clint Eastwood tends to have an older audience,” Moore said. “And this will play like ‘Mystic River’ and be driven by critical acclaim.” He added that “Departed,” which is benefiting from solid word of mouth, may have stolen some of the Eastwood pic’s potential auds over the frame.

“There’s no question that ‘Departed’ appeals to a significant core of our audience,” he said. “With its subject matter, it did start out younger. But there’s plenty of capacity in the marketplace now to support both.”

In other new openers, Fox’s family pic “Flicka” ran to just $7.7 million from 2,877 corrals. Beating that film to the finish line was holdover “Open Season,” Sony’s first CG-animated pic from its digital division, which toned in another $8 million to raise its cume to $69.6 million after four frames. “Season” slipped just 28%, holding the attention of families.

Sony also bowed two arty pics in smaller runs over the latest frame, Sofia Coppola’s “Marie Antoinette,” which finished in eighth place, and lit adaptation “Running With Scissors.”

“Marie” bowed on 859 screens to take in $5.3 million for a bloody good per-screen average of $6,170 and Coppola’s best opening to date. “Scissors” cut up $225,000 from eight playdates.

“Prestige” is just one of two period pieces about magicians in the marketplace, but the pic, starring Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale, didn’t get too badly tricked by “The Illusionist,” which has cumed $37.4 million in 10 weeks for the Yari Group.

B.O. overall took a nosedive from last weekend, when “The Grudge 2” topped the charts. That horror pic plummeted 63% and into fifth place, dragging down the combined B.O. of the top 10 films to $82 million from $96.5 million a week ago.

Last year over the same frame, top 10 B.O. was just $65.6 million, with “Doom” in pole position, followed by “Dreamer.”

“Grudge” is playing in a crowded month of horror pics: New Line’s latest “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” installment held onto a slot in the top 10, playing to $3.8 million. Cume is nearly $36 million after three frames.

Holdover “Man of the Year” fell to seventh on the charts. Political comedy — starring Robin Williams, — has cumed $22.5 million in two frames.

Also in the specialty arena, Warner Independent Pictures continues to face a challenge luring auds to see its Truman Capote biopic “Infamous” a year after Sony Pictures Classics handled “Capote.” “Infamous” has cumed $809,249 in two frames, and took in just over $173,600 from 179 playdates over the weekend for a per-screen average of only $972. Biz for “Infamous” slipped a steep 61.6%.

Disney also bowed a 3-D re-release of Tim Burton’s “The Nightmare Before Christmas,” which played to $3.3 million on 168 screens. Pic busted a house best at the El Capitan theater in Hollywood, taking in more than $291,000 there in its debut fame.

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