‘United’ turbulence

Auds cut pic's trip short, but o'seas beckons

While the controversial 9/11 movie “United 93” surprised many with a relatively strong $11.5 million opening frame at 1,795 theaters, it was equally surprising the next weekend when the pic dropped 53% to $5.3 million at 1,819 theaters.

Despite near-unanimous critical raves and an A-minus “CinemaScore” from viewers, “United 93” had a second-weekend dropoff more in line with a horror film or actioner — which more typically fall off more than 50% from a big opening weekend.

Acclaimed dramas that open in “93’s” territory typically decline more slowly. “Crash,” for instance, dipped just 23% after opening on about the same number of theaters. U’s “Munich,” another politically charged thriller with mostly positive notices, fell just 34% its second weekend.

With such positive reactions, U was undoubtedly counting on “United 93” to play for some time, underneath the early summer blockbusters, as moviegoers encouraged friends to check it out.

Instead, “United 93” looks likely to fade out of the marketplace faster than “RV,” the poorly reviewed family comedy that opened the same weekend; it dropped just 33% the next frame.

While no one is quite sure why word of mouth isn’t helping “United 93,” the most common theory is that no amount of encouragement can entice people who are put off by the subject matter. A lot of people already had their minds made up that they simply weren’t ready to see a film about the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

A pair of small-screen programs about Flight 93 may also have curtailed desire to see a bigscreen version. A&E scored the largest aud in its history with 5.9 million viewers in January for “Flight 93,” and Discovery Channel drew 7 million last fall to its special “The Flight That Fought Back,” a mix of reenactments and interviews.

The future of “United 93” could be a bit brighter in international markets, where the film will be counterprogramming to summer tentpoles, and comes without the same kind of emotional hurdles the pic faced Stateside.

Pic has its international debut at Cannes on May 26, followed by openings in the U.K. and Germany in June. It will roll out in the rest of the world in July, August and September.

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