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‘Bourne’ breaks box office records

Spy thriller heats up with best August opening

Cracking the box office code, filmmaker Paul Greengrass’ “The Bourne Ultimatum” nabbed the best August opening on record, outperforming the debut of any James Bond pic as well as the previous two installments in Universal’s Jason Bourne spy franchise.

“Ultimatum” drew an estimated $70.2 million from 3,660 locations, easily taking the weekend crown as the summer box office surge continued, turning the dog days of August into an unprecedented picnic feast. Total estimated receipts for the top 10 pics were up 35% over the same weekend last year, according to Rentrak, likely making this year’s frame the best on the books and altering the industry’s view of late summer’s B.O. potential.

Meanwhile, the coin was flowing overseas as well, as the combined gross for the top five pics hit $147 million, up 76% from the tally of the top five during the comparable frame last year.

In another first for the film biz, DreamWorks-Paramount’s “Transformers” was poised to become the fourth tentpole this summer to cross the $300 million mark.

Coming in second over the weekend was 20th Century Fox’s holdover “The Simpsons Movie,” which took in an estimated $25.6 million from 3,926 runs in its second frame, down 65%. Animated laffer has grossed $128.5 domestically and $315.5 million worldwide in just 10 days.

Barking up to No. 3 was Disney’s “Underdog,” based on the 1960s cartoon series. Family pic debuted with an estimated $12 million from 3,013 theaters, in line with previous Mouse House releases at this time of year, including “Sky High,” which opened at $14 million, and “The Parent Trap,” which bowed to $11.1 million.

The weekend did have its causalities. Paramount couldn’t find much room on the road for goofball comedy “Hot Rod,” starring “Saturday Night Life” performer Andy Samberg. Pic came in at No. 9 with an estimated $5 million from 2,607 locations. Likewise, Lionsgate couldn’t rustle up much girl power for tween live-action pic “Bratz,” based on the successful line of toy dolls. Movie landed at No. 10, grossing an estimated $4.3 million from 1,509 runs.

Holdovers dominated the top 10 list. New Line’s “Hairspray” even sang its way past “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix” to No. 5, bringing in an estimated $9.32 million from 3,115 locations in its third frame. Pic, with a cume of $79 million, stands a strong shot of crossing the $100 million mark office, a magic number for a bigscreen musical.

Warner Bros. romantic dramedy “No Reservations” continued to hit the counterprogramming sweet spot, coming in at No. 7 with $6.6 million from 2,425 locations. Also scoring with counterprogramming was Miramax’s “Becoming Jane,” the Jane Austen drama starring Anne Hathaway. Movie debuted at $1 million from 100 theaters for a per-screen average of $10,100.

In a limited bow, Picturehouse’s Jennifer Lopez-Marc Anthony starrer “El Cantante” opened to $3.2 million from 542 runs for a per-screen average of $6,003. Biopic of legendary Puerto Rican salsa singer Hector Lavoe performed especially well in New York and Florida.

THINKFilm scored a per-screen average of $4,700 for David Wain’s comedy “The Ten,” starring Paul Rudd, Winona Ryder, Jessica Alba and Adam Brody. Pic grossed $117,500 from 25 theaters in the top 10 markets.

But it was “Bourne Ultimatum,” which returned Matt Damon to the screen as the renegade agent for the third time, that delivered the most action at the multiplexes.

In addition to the best August opening ever, actioner marked the best debut numbers for both Damon and Greengrass. Pic appealed to both genders while skewing slightly older to auds over age 30.

The continued strength of the unconventional franchise is a coup for Universal, which happily pointed out that the “Ultimatum” bow topped last fall’s $40.8 million opening of “Casino Royale.”

“We knew what Paul Greengrass was capable of doing, and Matt’s just phenomenal. The combination of those two and producer Frank Marshall couldn’t be beat. The exit polls couldn’t have been better,” U distrib chief Nikki Rocco said. “It equals a kick-ass action spy film.”

“Ultimatum” far outpaced the first two films in the franchise. “The Bourne Supremacy,” also directed by Greengrass, opened at $52.5 million in July 2004 on its way to $176 million Stateside. “The Bourne Identity” bowed at $27.1 million in 2002 on its way to $121.7 million.

Before the infiltration of “Ultimatum,” the record holder for the best August opening was “Rush Hour 2,” which bowed to $67.4 million on Aug. 3, 2001, according to Nielsen EDI. “Signs” ($60.1 million) and last year’s “Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby” ($47 million) were the next highest openers in the month.

“Ultimatum” is the fifth pic this summer that’s a third installment in a series. After “Shrek the Third,” it is the only one to open higher than preceding films in the franchise.

Next week, there will be a sixth –New Line’s “Rush Hour 3,” which is likewise expected to fuel the unusually lucrative August box office. Outside of isolated cases, the pace of major studio releases generally slows down this time of year. But with the flood of private equity money into Hollywood, there are more movies than ever being made and released.

This summer’s rush isn’t ending with “Rush Hour 3,” which will go up against Paramount’s “Stardust.” On Aug. 17, Sony bows raunchy laffer “Superbad,” while Warner Bros. opens Nicole Kidman starrer “Invasion,” a remake of sci-fi classic “Invasion of the Body Snatchers.”

Over the weekend, the top 10 films posted box office receipts of $158.8 million vs. $116.3 million in the same frame last year, when “Talladega Nights” and toon “Barnyard” led the pack. The weekend was up nearly 18% over the same frame in 2004 — the best summer on record –when “The Village” and remake “The Manchurian Candidate” opened.

Driving the overall box office boom is the continued strength of holdovers.

Twentieth Century Fox senior VP- general sales manager Chris Aronson said he expects “Simpsons,” which scored the fifth highest opening of the summer at $74 million, to have strong legs as well.

“With its playability, it will run the rest of the summer,” Aronson said.

Pic’s second-frame decline was in line with the summer’s other best openers. “Spider-Man 3” dropped 62% in its second frame; “Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End,” 62%; and “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix,” 63%.

Disney prexy of distribution Chuck Viane said the Mouse House can hardly complain about “being No. 3 in this market” with “Underdog.”

Just as sweet, Disney and Pixar’s “Ratatouille” is safely on its way to grossing $200 million at the domestic box office, in line with other Pixar releases. For the weekend, toon came in at No. 11, grossing $4 million in its sixth frame from 1,940 locations for a cume of $188.2 million.

Disney specialty arm Miramax also was celebrating with “Becoming Jane.”

“It seems to have found its niche,” said Miramax prexy Daniel Battsek, adding that the pic will likely expand to around 500 theaters this coming weekend.

Likewise, Picturehouse’s Bob Berney was pleased with the bow of “El Cantante.”

Paramount didn’t try to gloss over its disappointment with the numbers for “Hot Rod,” produced by Lorne Michaels’ Saturday Night Films. Pic, directed by Akiva Schaffer, also starred Jorma Taccone, who has appeared on “SNL.”

“We love Lorne Michaels and his team, and feel that Andy, Akiva and Jorma are truly unique talents. We are disappointed that more people did not get into the theaters this weekend to see their freshman film outing,” said Par prexy of worldwide marketing and distribution Rob Moore said.

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