World in Louvre with ‘Code’

$77 mil lands pic as top '06 opener

Sony cracked the box office code after all.

After suffering a critical drubbing at Cannes, “The Da Vinci Code” found the B.O. holy grail, garnering $77 million Stateside and a record $147 million overseas.

Worldwide, pic’s $224 million take gives Sony bragging rights to the second-biggest opening weekend ever, behind only that of “Star Wars: Episode III — Revenge of the Sith.” Ranking includes only Friday-Sunday domestic grosses for competitors; otherwise Wednesday openers “Lord of the Rings: Return of the King” and “War of the Worlds” would have slightly higher global takes.

Stateside, “Da Vinci” had the biggest opening of 2006, $9 million ahead of “Ice Age: The Meltdown.”

Opening, in line with industry expectations given pic’s blockbuster tracking, is the 13th biggest domestic debut of all time.

Sony’s B.O. dominator overwhelmed the frame’s other major debut, “Over the Hedge.” Latest DreamWorks Animation toon grossed $37.2 million, about what distributor Par was aiming for given “Da Vinci’s” dominance in pre-release tracking.

Still, that’s the softest opening for a DreamWorks CGI toon since “Antz” in 1998 and well behind the bow of last spring’s “Madagascar,” which grossed $47 million on the first three days of Memorial Day weekend.

Two sizable openings helped the overall frame stay basically flat with a year ago, when “Revenge of the Sith” bowed to $108 million.

“Da Vinci” played about evenly to men and women over and under 30. Half the aud said they had read the book.

Pic averaged $20,616 at 3,735 playdates.

Besides negative reviews, the only obstacles that seemed to be standing in the film’s way this weekend, and that may have kept its gross from being even bigger, were the controversial subject matter and more mature themes than summer tentpoles usually sport.

“Most of the other top-grossing films are young, special effects driven movies,” said Sony marketing and distribution chairman Jeff Blake. “For a movie with such provocative themes to be among the top openings of all time is thrilling to us.”

The only non-actioner and non-family film that has opened bigger is “The Passion of the Christ.”

Since summer is filled primarily with pics that appeal to younger auds, Sony is looking for “Da Vinci” to have long legs, particularly over Memorial Day weekend, when “X-Men: The Last Stand” opens targeted at teenagers. Domestic cume over $200 million is certain, with $250 million or more doable.

It’s the sixth No. 1 opening of 2006 for Sony, which has turned around its fortunes after a dismal 2005.

Pic is also the biggest opening ever for star Tom Hanks, helmer Ron Howard and producer Brian Grazer.

While the “Over the Hedge” bow was in line with estimates, DreamWorks Animation now faces an uphill battle to bring it up to the $193 million “Madagascar” cumed. A big Memorial Day weekend is critical for the toon.

Unlike previous DreamWorks toons, such as “Shrek 2,” which appealed to adults as well as kids, “Hedge” moviegoers were 80% family.

“By opening a week earlier than ‘Madagascar,’ we think we got a strong number that sets us up well for Memorial Day and the summer,” Paramount general sales manager Don Harris said.

“Over the Hedge” is the first film Par has handled under the distribution deal it set up with DreamWorks Animation after acquiring the DreamWorks studio.

In a sign of how mixed the “Hedge” performance was, pic set two contrasting records. Opening was the biggest ever against another film’s $70 million-plus debut, but also the lowest ever for a pic bowing at more than 4,000 theaters.

Toon had a per-play average of $9,172 at 4,059 theaters.

Frame’s only other wide opener was “See No Evil,” the first movie financed by WWE Films. Lionsgate-distribbed horror pic, which stars wrestler Kane, grossed a soft $4.4 million at 1,257 theaters for an average take of $3,461.

Any hopes Warner Bros. and Virtual Studios had that “Poseidon” could recover after a disastrous domestic debut were capsized as the big budget remake plunged 58% in “Da Vinci’s” wake. Pic grossed $9.2 million, putting it in fourth place and bringing cume to $36.8 million.

“Mission: Impossible III” fell a similarly big 56%, taking $11 million on its third weekend as cume broke into nine figures at $103.2 million. Pic now has no shot at matching even the first “Impossible” film, which took in $181 million 10 years ago. Sequel cumed $215 million in 2000.

In limited release, ThinkFilm opened Gael Garcia Bernal starrer “The King” to a so-so $9,100 on one play in New York. It bows in L.A. on June 9.

Sony Pictures Classics expanded “Sketches of Frank Gehry” to eight theaters in its second week, up from two. Docu grossed a weak $25,044, or $3,131 per, bringing cume to $51,325.

First Look expanded “The Proposition” from eight to 15 playdates and did a soft $64,500, or $4,300 per theater. Cume is $187,167. Australian drama expands to 10 more cities over Memorial Day weekend.

Overall, frame was up just 1% from a year ago, according to Nielsen EDI. But since “Revenge of the Sith” opened on a Thursday last year and made $50 million, summer 2006 is thus far 5% behind 2005 and the year-to-date lead has slipped to 3% from 5% last week.

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