'Fury' scores Rogue's best ever opening

Dimension’s “Halloween” proved the perfect ending to the record-busting summer, grossing a winning $31 million over the Labor Day weekend and joining the parade of franchises –new and old — that fueled the unexpected box office boom.

Generally, the Labor Day frame is ho-hum for movie-going. Not so this year, in keeping with the summer-long trend that defied the odds to become the best on the books for the film biz, the four-day Labor Day weekend included.

Domestic box office is up 8% over summer 2004, the previous record frame, and up 11% over last year, according to Nielsen EDI and Rentrak. Overseas, Hollywood fare positively glowed, with the international box office up 20% over last year’s summer haul.

For the first time, the domestic summer box office crossed the $4 billion mark. Through Monday, box office receipts totaled an estimated $4.152 billion, compared with $3.86 billion in 2004 and $3.739 billion last year.

The big question now: Will Hollywood be able to replicate the summer of 2007, when business never let up, even in the dog days of August? This year’s busy sesh marked the first time that the four mega-franchises — Sony’s “Spider-Man,” Disney’s “Pirates of the Caribbean,” DreamWorks Animation’s “Shrek” and Warner Bros.’ “Harry Potter” — all made a stand at the B.O. during the same summer, along with franchise installments “The Bourne Ultimatum,” “Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer” and “Ocean’s Thirteen.”

Moreover, the summer bounty was enhanced by successful revival of long-dormant properties “Die Hard” and “Rush Hour,” as well as the bigscreen adaptation of celebrated television series “The Simpsons.” Summer 2007 also saw the birth of a new franchise with the boffo perf of robot actioner “Transformers.”

The one franchise title unable to make a strong play was laffer “Evan Almighty.” Otherwise, though, comedy was a top draw this summer, especially R-rated fare a la Judd Apatow’s “Knocked Up” and the Apatow-produced “Superbad.”

“Evan” was billed less as a sequel than as a reimagining. Unlike “Evan,” Rob Zombie’s reimagining of the durable horror franchise “Halloween” hit the sweet spot this weekend.

Distributed by MGM and playing in 3,472 locations, the ninth pic in the horror franchise nabbed the biggest opening ever for the holiday and overturned recent talk that horror is no longer a box office draw. Previous record holder for Labor Day was “Transporter 2,” which debuted at $20.1 million in 2005.

“Halloween” wasn’t the only victor of the long Labor Day weekend, the best on record in terms of box office receipts and 13% over last Labor Day weekend.

Focus Features genre label Rogue Pictures nabbed its best opening ever with sports parody “Balls of Fury,” which grossed $13.8 million for a six-day cume of $16.8 million (pic bowed Wednesday).

The other wide opening, Hyde Park Entertainment and 20th Century Fox’s Kevin Bacon starrer “Death Sentence,” grossed an estimated $5.2 million from 1,822 runs. Pic placed No. 8.

With “Halloween” coming in No. 1 and “Balls of Fury,” No. 3, holdovers dominated the rest of the top 10 list.

On the specialty side, Lionsgate scored the widest and best opening for a Spanish-language pic with filmmaker Joe Menendez action-adventure “Ladron que roba a ladron,” which grossed $2 million from 340 locations in markets around the country.

Other milestones of the weekend — Universal’s “Bourne Ultimatum” and Disney-Pixar’s “Ratatouille” both crossed the $200 million mark at the domestic box office.

All told, 15 films sailed past $100 million this summer, an all-time high. In another first, four of those — Sony’s “Spider-Man 3,” DreamWorks Animation’s “Shrek the Third,” DreamWorks-Paramount’s “Transformers” and Disney’s “Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End” –made more than $300 million domestically, while Warner Bros.’ “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix” is nearing that mark with an estimated cume of roughly $287 million.

Along with “Evan Almighty” and “Surf’s Up,” summer disappointments included two Warner Bros. titles, “The Invasion” and “Lucky You,” as well as Paramount’s “Stardust.”

Otherwise, if there was a record, this summer broke it, from biggest openers to best July 4 to best weekday opening, among other notable achievements. Across the board, the weekday box office also was up.

Heading into the summer, there was plenty of handicapping, particularly when it came to “Transformers.” Many speculated that the DreamWorks-Paramount tentpole would only draw males, considering it is based on a line of toy robots. As it turned out, “Transformers” played nicely with all audiences.

Same was true for Fox and “The Simpsons Movie.” No one was entirely sure just how broad an aud the feature adaptation of the long-running TV series would draw. With a cume of $178.4 million, it’s clear that “Simpsons” pulled in more than just loyal viewers of the Fox series.

And when it came to revivals, there had been doubt about the chances for Fox’s “Live Free or Die Hard,” which returned Bruce Willis to the bigscreen as crusading cop John McClane after more than a decade. Pic proved to be a sleeper hit.

Savvy counterprogramming moves of the summer including New Line’s musical “Hairspray,” which sashayed its way into an elite club of musicals crossing the $100 million mark domestically. Warners’ also enjoyed modest success with the female skewing “No Reservations” and “License to Wed.” Chick films in particular drove a strong bump in the weekday box office.

Sony’s big summer toon “Surf’s Up” may have fallen flat, but Disney-Pixar’s “Ratatouille” has shown plenty of playability. “Ratatouille” was one of a handful of pics enjoying unusually strong legs, driven by word-of-mouth and good reviews.

In terms of domestic market share, Paramount-DreamWorks is No. 1 for the summer at an estimated $722 million, followed by U at an estimated $610 million, according to preliminary estimates released by Nielsen EDI. Disney comes in third with an estimated $580 million, while Warners places fourth at an estimated $545 million. Sony and Fox are in a close race at around $515 million to $520 million, although Sony could have the edge, since Fox Searchlight receipts are included in Fox’s total.

The picture is entirely different, of course, when it comes to return on investment. Fox may ultimately come in last in summer market share, but it will enjoy one of the most profitable summers given the relatively modest budgets for “Live Free,” “Simpsons” and “Fantastic Four.”

Corrections were made to this article at 9:00 am.

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