'Prada' counter-programming pays off with records

This article was updated at 11:15 p.m.

The Man of Steel took box office gold, but it was “The Devil Wears Prada” that set records.

“Superman Returns” grossed a solid but unspectacular $52.1 million for the weekend, bringing the cume since its Wednesday opening to $84.2 million. “Prada,” meanwhile, proved very effective counter-programming, taking $27 million.

Warner Bros.’ super-hero tentpole made a little more than its last re-start of a comic book franchise, “Batman Begins,” which grossed $72.9 million its opening Wednesday through Sunday, but far behind “War of the Worlds,” last year’s July 4 opener, which WB was aiming to match.

Par’s Tom Cruise starrer took in $100.6 million by the Sunday before July 4 after opening the previous Wednesday. “Superman” virtually matched “Worlds” on its opening day, taking in $21 million, but has been significantly behind every day since, indicating softer interest beyond the core fans who first came out or, potentially even more worrisome for Warner Bros., worse word of mouth.

“Worlds” was 40 minutes shorter, however, giving the pic slightly more showtimes. But with a production budget of $220 million (plus $40 million in previous development costs), WB has a lot riding on the Bryan Singer-helmed “Superman,” which it’s hoping to turn into a long-term franchise. Domestically, pic now has an uphill climb to cume significantly more than $200 million, especially with “Pirates of the Carribbean: Dead Man’s Chest” opening next weekend.

Pic is in a virtual tie for the third biggest Independence Day weekend bow ever, behind “Worlds'” $64.9 million and “Spider-Man 2’s” $88.2 million in 2004, and even with the $52.1 million “Men in Black 2″ grossed in 2002.

“Batman Begins,” which made $48.7 million its opening weekend, ended up at $205 million. But that pic grossed only $15 million its opening Wednesday, demonstrating it may have had better b.o. momentum.

“Superman Returns” averaged $12,821 at 4,065 theaters.

Pic’s only record came on Imax screens, where a 3-D version grossed $3 million over the weekend and $5 million since Wednesday, beating the “Batman Begins” record of $3 million over five days.

Fox’s risky decision to open “The Devil Wears Prada” against “Superman” payed off big time, as it grossed much more than comparable chick lit adaptations such as “Bridges Jones’ Diary,” which bowed to $10.7 million in 2001. It’s the biggest ever second place performance for a July 4 weekend and the second highest ever gross for a counter-programmer aimed at women that bowed against a summer tentpole, behind only “America’s Sweethearts,” which made $30.2 million against the opening of “Jurassic Park III” in 2001.

“Prada” had a per play average of $9,484 at 2,847 locations.

Last weekend’s no. 1 pic “Click” fell 52%, slightly more than such recent Adam Sandler comedies as “The Longest Yard,” “50 First Dates,” and “Anger Management. Weekend take was $19.4 million and cume is $77.9 million, behind “Yard” but ahead of “Dates” and virtually even with “Anger.”

Other pic in its second frame, “Waist Deep,” lost most of its steam, tumbling 65% to just $3.3 million after a strong bow of $9.4 million at 1,004 theaters. Cume for Rogue’s African-American-targeted actioner is $15.2 million.

In limited release, ThinkFilm’s “Strangers With Candy” film adaptation did a strong $44,500 at two theaters in New York, averaging $22,250. Cume for the Amy Sedaris and Stephen Colbert starrer since its Wednesday bow is 70,560.

Sony Pictures Classics opened docu “Who Killed the Electric Car?” at eight theaters, grossing a so-so $44,269, or $5,534 per play. Cume since its Wednesday opening is $57,657.

“Wordplay” more than doubled its print count to 95, but saw its gross drop 11% to $289,940. Per play average was just $3,052, indicating IFC and the Weinstein Co.’s crossword puzzle docu won’t be expanding much further. Cume is $820,758.

Overall weekend was up 6% from a year ago, as solid perfs for “Prada,” “Click” and “Cars” made up for “Superman’s” shortfall compared to “War of the Worlds.” Summer 2006 is now up 1% compared to summer 2005, while year-to-date 2006 box office is 3% ahead of 2005, according to Nielsen EDI.

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