DreamWorks' feature stings competition

DreamWorks Animation’s “Bee Movie” showed surprising sting in its second weekend, buzzing its way to the top of the B.O. hive with an estimated $26 million from 3,944 runs. But high-profile United Artists title “Lions for Lambs” looked more lamb than lion,grossing an estimated $6.7 million from 2,215 theaters to land at No. 4.

Even with an all-star cast of Tom Cruise, Meryl Streep and Robert Redford, “Lions” couldn’t overcome audience resistance to politically themed movies dealing with U.S. foreign policy and the war on terror. It is the first release from Cruise and Paula Wagner’s revived United Artists label, and was directed by Redford.

Also meek in its debut was Warner Bros.’ holiday entry “Fred Claus,” toplining Vince Vaughn. Santa laffer opened at an estimated $19.2 million, coming in No. 3 and leaving the top two spots to holdovers “Bee” and Universal’s Denzel Washington-Russell Crowe starrer “American Gangster.”

The Paramount-distributed “Bee,” voiced, co-written and produced by Jerry Seinfeld, declined just 32% in its second frame for a cume of $72.2 million. Toon, like “Claus,” likely benefited from the Veterans Day holiday, as many kids are out of school today, meaning more family traffic than usual at theaters Sunday.

“Gangster,” directed by Ridley Scott and produced by Imagine Entertainment, declined just 44% in its second frame to an estimated $24.3 million from 3,059 theaters for a hefty cume of $80.7 million, the second-best cume of the fall to date. “Gangster” beat “Bee” for the No. 1 spot last weekend.

Overall, the domestic box office was once again down, reflected in the fact that the weekend’s new entries lost to holdovers. According to Nielsen EDI, the weekend ran 13% behind the same frame last year, when “Borat” led the pack.

Weekend’s other wide release was horror pic “P2,” the first film handled by the new distribution division at Summit Entertainment. Flying fairly under the radar in terms of its marketing campaign, film grossed an estimated $2.2 million from 2,020 runs, coming in at No. 8.

For its part, “Lions” did fare better than New Line’s political drama “Rendition,” which Streep also starred in, opposite Jake Gyllenhaal and Reese Witherspoon. That film posted $4 million from 2,250 theaters in its debut last month.

UA, a subsid of MGM, had cautioned that “Lions” wasn’t the sort of commercial release that Cruise is known for. When they left their longtime term deal at Par last year and revived the UA label, Cruise and Wagner said they wanted to nurture talent and foster creativity. Hence their decision to pursue the decidedly less commercial “Lions.”

“Lions” is Cruise’s lowest-grossing wide opener in more than two decades. In 1986, the “Color of Money” debuted to $6.3 million. “Lions” can’t be compared to the ensemble drama “Magnolia,” since “Magnolia” was a limited release.

Of the wide releases that Redford has directed, “Lions” is the lowest opener. “Legend of Bagger Vance” debuted at $11.5 million, while “The Horse Whisperer” opened to $13.7 million.

Execs at UA and MGM — which distributes UA titles — said they were satisfied with “Lions” perf, considering its difficult subject matter, although the two entities had looked for “Lions” to open at between $8 million and $10 million. They also stressed that the film’s production budget was only $35 million.

Of the film’s aud, 66% was over the age of 35, with a substantial percentage over the age of 50.

“Lions” received mostly poor reviews, and one UA exec suggested that the press didn’t like the fact that the movie takes issue with the media’s failure to adequately challenge U.S. foreign policy.

MGM distribution topper Clark Woods said “Lions” is positioned to take advantage of the upcoming holiday frame, and that going wide with the film, instead of a platform release, was the way to go.

“We want to be on as many screens as possible during Thanksgiving,” Woods said.

Warner Bros. likewise said it expects “Fred Claus” to have playability.

Overall cinema score for “Claus” was B, while “Lions” received a C.

“Christmas movies are a marathon, not a sprint,” said Warner exec VP of domestic distribution Jeff Goldstein. “There is nothing wrong with $19.2 million.”

But inside the studio, there was hope that the film, which reunited Vaughn with “Wedding Crashers” director David Dobkin, would open to at least $20 million.

“Claus,” also starring Paul Giamatti and Rachel Weisz, ended up opening more along the lines of “Santa Claus 3: The Escape Clause,” which debuted at $19.5 million last year on its way to a domestic cume of $84.5 million.

From the outset, Warner had a difficult task in selling the movie as a family title, since Vaughn is known for starring in adult-skewing comedies such as “The Break Up,” which debuted at $39.2 million, and “Wedding Crashers,” which bowed with $33.9 million. “Claus” is the first PG-rated film in which Vaughn has starred.

Studio’s initial marketing campaign for “Claus” played up the Vaughn and Dobkin factor, but was later tweaked to conjure up recollections of New Line’s holiday hit “Elf,” which opened to $31.1 million in November 2003.

Of the “Claus” aud, 37% was under the age of 18, while 60% of the aud were families, Goldstein said.

DreamWorks Animation had little to spin in reporting its weekend grosses for “Bee.”

“I think this solidifies that ‘Bee Movie’ is a must-see family film for the holiday season,” said DreamWorks Animation worldwide marketing topper Anne Globe. “It’s not often that a movie moves up to No. 1 in its second weekend.”

Universal was likewise seeing holiday-season durability for “Gangster,” which, at $43.6 million, boasted the strongest opening of any fall film.

“I think this movie is in it for the long haul. Considering it is more than 2½ hours long and is rated R, I think we had a great weekend,” said U prexy of domestic distribution Nikki Rocco.

Elsewhere on the weekend top 10 chart, adult comedy “Dan in Real Life” came in at No. 5, declining just 25% in its third frame to $5.9 million from 1,941 runs for a cume of $30.7 million.

Also in its third frame, Lionsgate-Twisted Pictures’ “Saw IV” declined 52% to $5 million from 2,904 runs for a hefty cume of $58 million.

Taking No. 7 was Disney’s “The Game Plan,” which declined 39% in its seventh frame to $2.4 million from 2,161 runs for a cume of $84.5 million, the highest-grossing film of the fall.

Sony’s horror title “30 Days of Night” came in No. 9, declining 44% in its fourth frame to $2.1 million from 1,696 runs for a cume of $37.3 million.

Taking No. 10 was New Line’s “Martian Child,” which declined 47% in its second frame to $1.7 million for a cume of $6 million.

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