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‘Beowulf’ slays competition

Paramount epic wins box office battle

Paramount and Shangri-La Entertainment’s violent epic “Beowulf” howled at the domestic box office, wolfing down the weekend competition and proving the potency of digital 3-D. Film, the widest release to date for the technology, grabbed roughly 40% of its estimated $28.1 million haul from digital 3-D screens.

PG-13 title, employing motion-capture animation, also was the international market leader.

Directed by Robert Zemeckis, “Beowulf” played in a total of 3,153 theaters domestically, of which only 740 runs were digital 3-D.

Still, the weekend was down a whopping 27% from the same frame last year, when “Happy Feet” and “Casino Royale” opened at around $40 million each, according to Nielsen EDI and Rentrak. “Borat,” then in its third week, was a strong player as well.

Universal’s crime drama “American Gangster,” directed by Ridley Scott, did provide some good news, crossing the $100 million mark in its third frame and becoming the first film of the fall to cross the century mark. Coming in at No. 3 for the weekend, the Denzel Washington-Russell Crowe starrer declined 45% to an estimated $13.2 million from 3,110 locations. Cume is $100.9 million.

The Tom Cruise-Meryl Streep-Robert Redford political drama “Lions for Lambs,” however, continued to stumble badly, landing at No. 9. Pic declined 57% in its second frame to $2.9 million from 2,216 runs for a cume of $11.6 million. Per-screen average was $1,310. Pic is distributed by MGM and marks the first release from Cruise and Paula Wagner’s United Artists label.

At least “Beowulf” and the two movies opening alongside it — Fox Walden’s family entry “Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium” and New Line’s “Love in the Time of Cholera” — generally performed in line with expectations, with no disastrous surprises.

Another positive note: Universal crossed the $1 billion mark over the weekend, marking the first time ever that five studios have done so in the same year. Other four are Disney, Par, Sony and Warner Bros.

Filmmaker Zach Helm’s “Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium,” toplining Natalie Portman, Dustin Hoffman and Jason Bateman, grossed an estimated $10 million from 3,164 locations, putting it at No. 5, according to Rentrak. G-rated pic cost $30 million-$35 million to produce.

“Cholera,” directed by Mike Newell and toplining Javier Bardem, couldn’t find much life at the box office, grossing an estimated $1.9 million from 852 theaters to hit No. 10. New Line distributed the film for Stone Village, which paid for the production budget as well as marketing costs.

Paramount didn’t just have “Beowulf” to celebrate. Par-DreamWorks Animation’s “Bee Movie” came in at No. 2, declining just 44% in its third frame to an estimated $14.3 million from 3,984 runs; cume is $93.9 million.

Warner Bros. holiday title “Fred Claus” took No. 4 in its second frame, declining 35% to $12 million from 3,603 theaters; cume is $35.8 million. Studio also held sneak peeks of Thanksgiving entry “August Rush” at 518 theaters on Saturday. Warners said shows were at 80% capacity.

Paramount, like Fox Walden and other studios with titles early in their runs, expects to benefit from the extended Thanksgiving holiday. But there will be plenty of competition: No fewer than seven wide releases bow Wednesday, including Disney’s “Enchanted” and 20th Century Fox’s vidgame adaptation “Hitman,” starring Timothy Olyphant. “Beowulf” and “Hitman” will duke it out for younger males, although roughly 40% of the “Beowulf” aud was female, according to Par.

Not only did “Beowulf” see the widest release yet for a digital 3-D movie, it’s also the first 3-D title that’s not a kiddie pic. As with any 3-D film, ticket prices were higher, bumping up the overall box office.

“It just shows that the general audience is willing and excited to go see a movie in 3-D. ‘Beowulf’ broke a lot of ground,” said Par prexy of worldwide marketing and distribution Rob Moore.

“Beowulf,” rated PG-13, marks the first pure Paramount title — not a DreamWorks-originated film — to open at No. 1 this year. It employs the same motion-capture technology that Zemeckis used in “The Polar Express.”

Pic, whose ensemble cast included Ray Winstone, Angelina Jolie and Anthony Hopkins, wasn’t cheap: It cost $150 million to produce, although Par deferred its risk by putting up only about $50 million. Steve Bing’s Shangri-La put up the rest. Warners is the international distrib.

Par looked to attract the same aud that made Warner Bros.’ “300” a hit but says it faced a hurdle in that “Beowulf” is animated, not live action.

Of the 740 3-D screens on which “Beowulf” played, 648 were Real D systems. Imax showed the film on 84 of its 3-D screens, while Dolby Digital 3-D made up the rest.

According to Real D chair-CEO Michael Lewis, the gross for the Real D screens was $8 million — almost a third of the total haul for “Beowulf.”

“This is a down weekend at the box office, and the bright light is that a film released on our platform is doing great business. If you give the audience a better experience, they will show up,” Lewis said.

Imax Filmed Entertainment chair-prexy Greg Foster also touted impressive numbers, saying that while Imax screens repped less than 2% of the total screen count for “Beowulf,” the Imax haul of $3.6 million repped 13% of the film’s total take.

For Zemeckis, “Beowulf” comes in just shy of his two best openings. “What Lies Beneath” opened at $29.7 million, while “Cast Away” debuted at $28.8 million.

“Mr. Magorium’s Emporium” marks the second release from Fox Walden, a partnership between Walden Media and Fox. “The Seeker: The Dark Is Rising” debuted to a disappointing $3.7 million in October.

“Mr. Magorium’s Emporium” began as an indie project that was later picked up by Mandate. Walden next boarded the project, which tells the story of a magical toy shop willed to a young woman. Film marks Helms’ directing debut.

“We’re thrilled,” Fox senior VP of distribution Bert Livingston said. “Obviously, families turned out, but it’s almost an adult film. We’ll be in terrific shape over the five-day Thanksgiving frame.”

Coming in just behind that pic was Disney’s offbeat Steve Carell laffer “Dan in Real Life.” Movie declined just 25% in its fourth weekend, placing No. 6 and grossing an estimated $4.5 million from 1,901 runs. Cume is $37 million.

Landing at No. 9, Lionsgate and Twisted Pictures’ “Saw IV” declined 53% in its fourth frame to $2.3 million from 2,097 runs. Hard horror pic sports a healthy cume of $61.8 million.

Disney’s sleeper hit “The Game Plan” fell off the top 10 list in its eighth frame after a long and healthy run. Family laffer, toplining Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson, grossed $1.2 million from 1,374 runs; cume is $87.4 million.

Fall B.O. to date is running 4% behind last year, although year to date is still up by 5%.

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