Auds choose 'Stranger' over Acad favorites

Oscar noms yielded some healthy B.O. gains for a trio of best-pic contenders, but the weekend frame was dominated by another hot horror debut.

Sony Screen Gems’ “When a Stranger Calls” ruled the frame with a boffo $22 million bow. Three of the four best picture noms still in release got some mileage out of their expansions, but “Brokeback Mountain” lost business despite its Oscar nom and an additional 435 playdates.

Overall, grosses for the four best picture candidates in theaters were up 27% compared with last weekend. (“Crash” is already on DVD.)

Remake of “When a Stranger Calls” averaged $7,336 at 2,999 locations. It’s the biggest gross ever for a Super Bowl weekend. Last year, Screen Gems horror pic “Boogeyman” set the previous record with $19 million.

It’s also the third frame out of the last five in which a horror pic opened at No. 1, following Screen Gems’ “Underworld: Evolution” and Lionsgate’s “Hostel.”

Opening is particularly impressive given that business is typically glum on Super Bowl Sunday. Sony was projecting only $3.2 million Sunday after grossing $9 million Friday and $9.8 million Saturday.

“To exceed the budget of a film on its opening weekend is a great feeling,” said Sony distrib topper Rory Bruer.

Pic was strongest with teenage girls, as 58% of the aud was under 21 and 55% female.

As it reached a total of 2,089 playdates and hit many small markets where arthouse pics rarely play, “Brokeback Mountain” experienced a 13% drop despite its Oscar noms. Gay love story had a per-play average of $2,719. Cume is now $59.8 million.

“It’s maxed,” said Focus distribution topper Jack Foley. “The top-grossing houses were really invigorated by the Academy nominations, but the small markets, where this type of film usually doesn’t even play, are modest in their grosses.”

After eight straight weeks of expansion, Focus Features now plans to slowly scale back. Foley said he hopes to keep the print count above 1,500 through the Oscars.

Best picture nominees “Good Night, and Good Luck” and “Capote” both expanded into wide release for the first time after long runs, but got very modest returns.

Sony Pictures Classics’ and United Artists’ “Capote” grossed $2.5 million at 1,239 theaters, giving it a per play average of $2,025. Cume is $18.2 million.

Grosses were even weaker for Warner Independent’s “Good Night,” which took just $1.5 million at 929 playdates. Average was $1,620 and cume is now $26.7 million.

“Munich” added just 171 locations and got a decent 11% bump at the B.O., grossing $1.9 million at 1,151 theaters. Per-play average was $1,615 and the cume stands at $43.1 million.

Despite landing only acting and technical nominations, “Walk the Line” also got an Oscar boost, upping its gross by 13% as it added 376 playdates. Fox’s biopic grossed $3.4 million at 1,577 theaters, giving it a per-play average of $2,172. Cume is a very strong $110.7 million.

Frame’s other opener, “Something New,” performed more like a holdover, taking just $5 million in seventh place.

Focus’ interracial romantic comedy played strongest to African-American auds in big cities. Average take was $3,962 at 1,266 playdates.

“Big Momma’s House 2″ declined 52% in its second week, landing it in the No. 2 spot. Fox’s Martin Lawrence laffer grossed $13.4 million at 3,261 locations for an average of $4,094. Total take is $45.4 million.

Showing greater resistance to the Super Bowl, family pics “Nanny McPhee” and “Hoodwinked” had by far the smallest drops of non-Oscar pics in the top 10.

U’s Emma Thompson starrer came in No. 3 with $9.9 million in its second frame, down 32%. Average take was $4,615 at 2,146 playdates and cume is now $26.6 million.

Weinstein Co.’s “Hoodwinked” declined only 29%, grossing $5.3 million on its fourth weekend at 2,907 theaters. Per play average was $1,823 and cume stands at $44.1 million.

In limited release, TWC expanded “Mrs. Henderson Presents” to 260 runs, up from 53, following star Judi Dench’s Oscar nom. Pic grossed $996,408, giving it a per-play average of $3,832 and bringing its cume to $3.2 million.

The Weinstein Co. and IFC’s “Transamerica” got a small jump following the nomination of its star, Felicity Huffman. Pic added 19 playdates, to 101 and grossed $508,675, or $5,036 per play. Cume for the transgender road drama is $2.2 million.

Despite no Oscar attention, Magnolia opened “The World’s Fastest Indian” to solid numbers at 114 playdates. Anthony Hopkins starrer, which had an Acad qualifying run in December, grossed a decent $460,000, or $4,035 per theater.

Also nomination-less following a December qualifying run, SPC’s “The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada” grossed a solid $247,613 at 33 theaters. Per play average for the Western was $7,503 and cume is $279,257.

Lionsgate’s Oscar Wilde adaptation “A Good Woman” had a bad time at the B.O. Pic bowed to just $105,000 at 35 theaters, averaging $3,000 per play.

In its second week, “Imagine Me & You” grossed a modest $125,338 at 56 theaters. Per play take was $2,238 and cume is $197,638. Fox Searchlight’s romantic comedy will hit roughly 100 playdates in 22 more cities next weekend.

Picturehouse’s Brit important “Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story” grossed $45,091, down 26%, in its second week on three plays in Gotham. Per-play take was a very strong $15,030. Cume for the meta-adaptation is $126,787. Pic opens Friday in Los Angeles.

Thinkfilm expanded Hungarian import “Fateless” from three to eight playdates and more than doubled its gross to a still-weak $22,681. Per play take was $2,835 and cume is $86,212.

Overall, weekend was up 2% compared with a year ago.

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