Comic adaptation takes in $51.5 million

“Ghost Rider,” the bigscreen comicbook adaptation from Sony and Marvel, rolled into the No. 1 spot at the domestic B.O. Monday morning as the biggest-ever Presidents Day weekend debut with $51.5 million.

Frame was yet another in which auds largely focused on studio spectacles rather than the crop of Oscar-nommed pics still playing in theaters.

“Ghost” performed more like a summer popcorn pic than a first-quarter rollout: Despite being skewered by critics, “Ghost” — starring Nicolas Cage as supernatural stunt cyclist Johnny Blaze — saw the year’s biggest bow so far.

By crossing over to a wide spectrum of auds, the seemingly male-skewing pic handily led a busy weekend in which five new wide rollouts entered the fray. But while “Ghost” stole the show, other pics also made out well.

Extended four-day weekend numbers for the top 10 pics spiked to $165.5 million, up from $105.9 million a year ago, and the frame was the biggest Presidents Day weekend ever.

“Ghost” scared up its socko take from 3,619 theaters for a per-theater average of $14,230 over the four-day frame.

Money-minting mark surpassed that of the studio’s “50 First Dates,” an Adam Sandler comedy that previously held the Prexy Day record with $45.1 million over four days in 2004.

Among other new releases, Disney and Walden Media’s bigscreen kidlit adaptation “Bridge to Terabithia” debuted in second, flying to $29 million over four days. Bow was the highest in February for a Mouse House pic, surpassing that of family adventure “Eight Below,” which iced $25 million just over a year ago.

“Terabithia” scored a plump per-engagement average of $7,032 as the frame’s second widest new rollout in 3,139 theaters.

Warner Bros. romantic comedy “Music & Lyrics” wrote up $16 million off 2,929 over four days for a per-theater average of $5,428. Pic opened on Valentine’s Day to corral the date crowd; Warners brass said the pic’s aud was 65% female.

Domestic cume on “Music” stands at $21.6 million, and the pic, which made solid headway internationally in various day-and-date bows thanks to star Hugh Grant’s appeal abroad, made out with the fourth slot on the charts here.

Lionsgate’s debut of Tyler Perry’s latest, “Daddy’s Little Girls,” meantime, racked up $14.3 million off 2,111 for its four-day take. Family comedy also bowed on Valentine’s Day; cume is $20 million. Aud, according to Lionsgate, was 86% African-American and 61% female.

Perry’s last pic, “Madea’s Family Reunion,” played to $30 million in its three-day debut last year and nailed a No. 1 ranking.

Universal spy thriller “Breach” sneaked into sixth on the charts, drawing up an estimated $12.3 million over four days and a solid per-theater average of $8,290. Pic — made with Sidney Kimmel Entertainment, which has international rights — bowed in 1,489 theaters in a strong entry into the marketplace.

Away from the newcomers, Paramount and DreamWorks’ Eddie Murphy starrer “Norbit” held solidly, managing to drop just 39%, to the No. 3 spot, in its second outing. Pic took in another $20.7 million over the four-day weekend. Laffer has packed on a hefty $62.8 million after two weekends in multiplexes.

The socko “Ghost Rider” debut could conceivably suggest a new franchise for Sony, the home of “Spider-Man,” though studio brass wouldn’t yet comment on that possibility. Studio execs predicted that the pic could hit $40 million, based on tracking data, and “Rider” easily motored past that forecast.

Among notable studio holdovers, Fox’s “Night at the Museum” continued a run of surprisingly slight drops at the B.O. Biz slid just 18% in its ninth weekend against stiff competish. Cume is $238.3 million.

Auds are seemingly in the mood for comedy these days, with laffers comprising five of the chart’s top 10. U’s multigenerational chick pic “Because I Said So” dropped just 35% in its third frame for the No. 8 spot; cume is $34.2 million.

MGM and the Weinstein Co.’s serial killer prequel “Hannibal Rising” dropped 50% in its second frame, falling from No. 2 last weekend into the No. 7 slot. Playing just over 3,000 theaters, pic took in $6.5 million. Cume is $23.1 million.

Heading into Oscar weekend, auds continue to crave fluffy fare just a year after specialty pics with heavy themes, including “Brokeback Mountain,” had been breaking out. Majority of the Oscar films are winding down their runs as the red carpet preps to roll in Hollywood next weekend. Of course, wins could give some pics a goose.

“Pan’s Labyrinth,” one Oscar-nommed breakout from specialty label Picturehouse, contracted to 905 screens, from its widest point last weekend of 1,143. Biz on the Spanish-language political fantasy dipped almost 40% as it dropped out of the top 10 after two straight frames at No. 8.

Pic took in an estimated $2.4 million over four days, translating into a per-theater average of $2,707. Cume has hit $30 million.

Paramount and DreamWorks’ “Dreamgirls” fell out of the top 10, too, as it moves toward $100 million. Pic, took in $1.8 million and stood at $99.8 million. Musical is still playing 1,037 theaters after dropping 1,247 from last weekend.

Warners’ “Letters From Iwo Jima” shot down $1.2 million off 651 for a per-location average of $1,881 in its ninth weekend over the four-day frame. Biz slid almost 30% from the previous weekend. War epic’s cume has flared to $11.76 million.

Biz on Miramax’s “The Queen,” over four days, fell 33.9%. Best pic nominee, in its 21st weekend, captured $1.56 million to raise cume to $51.3 million.

Paramount Vantage’s “Babel” burbled to $747,000 over the four-day frame, down more than 55%. After 17 weeks, best pic nominee has taken in $33.2 million.

Warners’ “The Departed” was still playing 320 theaters over the weekend, even as its DVD surge starts. Martin Scorsese gangster epic has cumed $131.5 million after 20 weeks.

One new Oscar-nommed specialty release that continued a strong perf in its second frame was Sony Classics’ foreign film contender “The Lives of Others.” German-language pic took in $459,504 off 32 for a four-day per-screen average of $14,360.

And the Weinstein Co.’s Oscar-nommed import “Days of Glory” took in $27,306 in its debut for a per-location average of $9,102 from three prints.

Also on the Oscar hunt, Miramax’s “Venus” saw biz slip 8.5% in its ninth frame. Pic is still playing in 157 theaters. Cume stands at $2.4 million.

Fox Searchlight’s “Last King of Scotland” took in just under $1.1 million off 384 for a per-engagement average of $2,838. Cume has hit $12.9 million after 21 frames.

Another of the studio’s Oscar hopefuls, “Notes on a Scandal,” contracted by 236 screens. Playing 413, it wrote up $1 million, taking cume up to $15.4 million after eight weeks in release.

New Line’s “Little Children” — after 20 weeks — schooled $191,350 off 90. Cume is just under $5 million.

Away from the awards races, after a strong couple of weeks in a handful of markets, MGM and Weinstein Co.’s “Factory Girl” expanded by 318 but wasn’t able to keep up the socko per-screen averages from its initial, more limited run. Sienna Miller starrer took in $506,000 for a per-location average of $1,508 over the three-day frame. Cume stood at just under $899,000 heading into Monday.

TWC’s biz on “Breaking and Entering” was up 73% after the film expanded by 19. Pic, playing 41, took in $156,000. Cume is $324,000.

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