‘Norbit’ takes hefty bite of B.O.

DreamWorks' comedy nabs top spot

Eddie Murphy’s latest latex-laden comedy outpaced tracking estimates to tip the scales as the No. 1 pic over the weekend, amassing $33.7 million.

“Norbit,” about a nerd unhappily married to an overbearing, gelatinous gal — with Murphy playing both those roles plus others — averaged $10,758 per engagement at 3,136 locations as the weekend’s widest new rollout.

On the other end of the artistic spectrum, Picturehouse continued to edge its artsy fantasy “Pan’s Labyrinth” into more mainstream cinemas, upping its screen count by 61 to 1,143. Ploy worked as the pic remained No. 8 on the charts for the second straight frame.

“Labyrinth,” which has six Academy Award nominations, added $3.5 million more over the weekend to bring cume to $26.5 million. While other foreign fare is having a tough time finding traction in the U.S., “Labyrinth” is the highest-grossing Spanish-language pic ever released Stateside.

The frame’s other wide opener, MGM’s “Hannibal Rising,” from the Weinstein Co., landed in the No. 2 spot for the frame. Pic, about the early years of the infamous cannibal, skewered $13.4 million off 3,003.

Some had thought the R-rated “Hannibal” might take more flesh from “Norbit” at the B.O., but the latter weighed in just as comedy has been playing particularly well at multiplexes: Previous frame’s No. 2, “Because I Said So,” from Universal, continued to pick up sturdy biz, dropping just 31% in its second frame. Laffer reeled in $9 million to land at No. 3 and raise cume to $25.6 million.

PG-13-rated “Norbit” — made by DreamWorks and distributed by Paramount — overcame poor critical reception to outperform expectations.

Thesp’s biggest opening for a live-action pic was the $42.5 million that “The Nutty Professor II” posted for Universal in 2000. His most recent live-action laffer, 2003’s “The Haunted Mansion,” bowed to $24.3 million.

“Norbit” marks Murphy’s 14th No. 1 opening overall.

Meanwhile, “Hannibal” didn’t show as much bite at the B.O. as expected: A tighter race had been predicted for the top spot because of “Hannibal’s” high tracking with male auds heading into the frame.

Its numbers marked the lowest bow for any movie featuring the Hannibal Lecter character except for the 1986 Michael Mann-helmed “Manhunter.”

But “Hannibal” likely chopped biz for last weekend’s No. 1, Sony’s supernatural “The Messengers,” which saw ticket sales drop 51%.

Beyond “Norbit,” auds continue to crave high-concept comedies. Fox’s “Night at the Museum” and “Epic Movie” posted only slight dips and remained in the top 10.

In its eighth weekend, Ben Stiller comedy “Night” dropped just 10% to take in an additional $5.7 million and lift domestic cume to $232.1 million. Cume for “Epic” stands at $35.4 million after three weeks.

Meanwhile, Oscar-nominated pics continued to post solid biz over the frame.

Miramax best pic nominee “The Queen,” starring Helen Mirren, slid just 5% in its 20th weekend, waving in $2.5 million more to lift cume past $49 million.

Also in the bottom half of the charts was Paramount and DreamWorks’ musical Murphy starrer “Dreamgirls,” which has eight noms to its credit and is dancing ever closer to the $100 million mark. Pic, playing in 2,284 theaters, took in an additional $3.1 million to up its tally to $97.1 million.

Sony Classics launched German pic “The Lives of Others,” its contender in the Oscar foreign-language race, in 13 theaters, taking in $222,727 for a per-engagement average of $17,133.

Among other Oscar contenders in more limited release, biz held fairly steady, with incremental losses and gains.

Warner Bros.’ best pic nominee “Letters From Iwo Jima” gave up just 1.8% of its ground at the B.O. Subtitled war epic locked in $1.7 million more as it added 61 theaters for a total of 781; cume is nearly $9.9 million after eight frames.

Warners continued to play its other best pic nominee, “The Departed,” in 766 engagements to add gravy to what has become Martin Scorsese’s highest-grossing film ever: Gangster pic whacked $1.3 million to raise cume to more than $130 million.

Fox Searchlight saw a 6% jump in biz for “The Last King of Scotland.” Forest Whitaker starrer crowned $1.35 million in its 20th week to bring cume to $11.45 million. Pic is still playing 540 locations.

Studio’s “Notes on a Scandal,” in its seventh weekend, jotted $1.57 million as biz fell 10%. Pic, screening in 649 halls, has taken in $13.9 million.

Paramount Vantage’s “Babel,” in its 16th frame, had a per-engagement average of $1,905 as it took in another $1.75 million. Cume is just over $32 million and biz was up nearly 3%.

Pedro Almodovar’s “Volver,” which has become the helmer’s biggest film in the U.S., raised its cume to just over $11 million. But the film seemed to be losing some steam in its 15th frame. Playing on 301 screens, it brought in $635,529 for a per-screen average of $2,111.

Biz on Warners’ “Blood Diamond” also began to dip: Pic grossed $785,000 off 451. Cume is $55.1 million.

New Line’s “Little Children,” playing 19 engagements, schooled $225,000 to raise cume to $4.7 million.

Away from the Oscar race, MGM and the Weinstein Co.’s “Factory Girl” had a solid second frame: Biopic played to $84,000 off 18 for a per-theater average of $10,222.

“Norbit” numbers helped combined B.O. of the top 10 pics spike sharply — up more than $20 million from last weekend’s anemic $66.1 million. But the frame couldn’t match the same weekend last year, when “The Pink Panther” ruled the charts and the top 10 pics generated $97.8 million combined.

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