Romance wraps arms around $25 mil

“Failure to Launch” showed liftoff this weekend, while Oscar’s glow had little effect on winning pics still in theaters.

“Launch” grossed $24.6 million, but “The Shaggy Dog” barked a little softer than expected, coming in just slightly ahead of “The Hills Have Eyes” in the mid-teens.

Frame’s other wide opener, “The Libertine,” grossed just $2.2 million.

Capping off a weak winter for top Oscar pics, there was little apparent bump from last week’s kudofest for “Brokeback Mountain” or the limited re-release of “Crash.”

Lionsgate’s re-release of best picture winner “Crash” generated just $357,000 at 175 playdates, for an average of $2,040. Pic’s already on DVD, though, and was barred from a number of theaters for that reason. Cume is now $53.8 million.

“Brokeback Mountain,” which took directing, adapted screenplay and score kudos, fell a sizable 49%, grossing $1.3 million, for a per-play average of $1,428 at 877 locations. Cume is $81 million.

“Capote,” which landed the actor Oscar for Philip Seymour Hoffman, had by far the smallest drop, falling 23% to $1.2 million at 689 playdates. Average was $1,760 and cume is $27.2 million.

It was another soft weekend for the industry overall, sending 2006 further into negative territory compared to last year. Weekend was off 4% from a year ago, when “Robots” opened to $36 million, according to Nielsen EDI. That puts 2006 down 2% from 2005 thus far. It’s a similar pattern to last year, when the B.O. decline started in late February.

Par’s Matthew McConaughey and Sarah Jessica Parker starrer filled a huge gap in the market for adult women – pic played overwhelmingly to women over 25 – and performed ahead of expectations. Per-play average was $8,047 at 3,057 locations.

It’s the first release for Par’s newly installed distribution prexy, Jim Tharp, who came over from DreamWorks, and a team he’s still assembling after most of the studio’s domestic distrib staffers were pink-slipped (Daily Variety, Feb. 10).

“It’s not that often you get a pleasant surprise,” said prexy of worldwide marketing, distribution and operations Rob Moore. “This also shows that our new (distribution and marketing) groups are up and running well.” Disney’s “Dog” grossed $16 million, somewhat below industry expectations, averaging $4,577 at 3,501 theaters. Seventy-five percent of moviegoers were families.

With spring break coming up, Mouse House is hoping for stronger than average weekday grosses to give the pic legs. Other recent Disney family pics like “Eight Below” have held very well.

Fox Searchlight’s remake of “The Hills Have Eyes” didn’t open as big as some of the winter’s other horror pics – such as “When a Stranger Calls” or “Hostel” – but did a solid $15.5 million. Pic averaged $5,916 at 2,620 locations and skewed to teen boys.

“The Libertine,” from the Weinstein Co., opened out of the top 10. Johnny Depp starrer, which TWC took in the breakup with Disney, averaged just $2,710 at 815 playdates. Pic grossed $45,000 during a one-week Acad qualifying run in November.

WB’s “16 Blocks” had the best hold of last weekend’s quartet of weak openings, declining only 38%. Bruce Willis starrer grossed $7.3 million, putting it in fourth place, ahead of “Madea’s Family Reunion,” which beat it last frame. Cop drama averaged $2,700 at 2,706 locations and has a total take of $22.7 million.

Biggest decline was for “Dave Chappelle’s Block Party,” as the comic’s appeal doesn’t seem to have translated from cable to film. Concert pic dropped 68% in its second week to just $2 million, putting it out of the top 10. Average was $1,659 at 1,200 locations and cume is $9.6 million.

Limited fare

In limited release, Par Classics bowed Robert Towne-helmed noir “Ask the Dust” to solid grosses at seven playdates in New York and L.A., taking $72,692, or $10,385 per. Colin Farrell starrer expands to 15 cities next week.

Palm Pictures had a weaker debut with its adaptation of “The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things,” taking $10,000 at two playdates in Gotham and L.A., or $5,000 per.

Warner Independent’s Mexican import “Duck Season” bowed to a soft $24,200 at six theaters in L.A. and New York, giving it an average of $4,033. Pic expands to 10 runs in six markets on Friday.

A week after its best foreign-language picture win at the Oscars, “Tsotsi” performed reasonably well for Miramax, taking $261,000 as it expanded from seven to 30 plays. South African pic averaged $8,683 and has cumed $471,000.

Sony Pictures Classics expanded “Joyeux Noel” from six to 20 theaters and got a mediocre $77,263, or $3,863 per. Including a longer run in Canada, French import has cumed $375,165.

WB’s Imax pic “Deep Sea: 3-D” added one play and was up 2% in its second frame, grossing $717,000, or $16,295 per. Cume is $1.67 million.

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