Film hails $24 million, niche takes 'Wild' ride

Sony’s horror pic “Resident Evil: Extinction” proved to be another charmed three-quel in easily taking the weekend crown with an estimated gross of $24 million from 2,828 runs, while Paramount Vantage’s “Into the Wild” led the crowded specialty race with a boffo per-screen average of $51,649.

For prestige titles, the playing field has never been so crowded this early in the season, sending distributors rushing to reevaluate their release plans.

Overall, box office biz was up 25% from last weekend — an especially sluggish frame — although moviegoing traffic still failed to overwhelm. Frame was essentially flat with the same weekend last year, when “Jackass Number Two” led with a $29 million opening.

Lionsgate laffer “Good Luck Chuck,” starring Dane Cook and Jessica Alba,” opened at No. 2, grossing an estimated $14 million from 2,612 locations, according to Rentrak. Perf was on the lower end of expectations.

Frame’s other new wide entry was Morgan Creek-Universal’s Amanda Bynes starrer “Sydney White,” which came in No. 6, grossing an estimated $5.3 million from 2,104 theaters. U distributed the teen comedy per its output deal with Morgan Creek.

After a soft opening, Jodie Foster starrer “The Brave One” held respectably in its second frame, declining 45% to an estimated $7.4 million from 2,755 locations for a cume of $25.1 million. That put the Warner Bros. and Village Roadshow Pictures title at No. 3 for the weekend.

James Mangold’s Western remake “3:10 to Yuma” had an even better hold, declining just 29% in its third frame to an estimated $6.3 million from 2,902 runs for a cume of $37.9 million. Film came in No. 4.

“That gives us two movies in the top five,” Lionsgate distribution topper Steve Rothenberg said.

He added that “Good Luck Chuck” came in exactly where the studio wanted. Pic opened well ahead of last year’s Dane Cook starrer “Employee of the Month,” which grossed $11.4 million in its first weekend. Lionsgate also released that movie.

Sony also was celebratory. “Resident Evil: Extinction,” based on the horror survival vidgame and returning Milla Jovovich to the bigscreen in the role of Alice, grossed more than either of the first two films.

“Resident Evil” opened to $17 million in 2002 on its way to a domestic cume of $40.1 million, while 2004 sequel “Resident Evil: Apocalypse” grossed $23 million on its way to a cume of $50.7 million.

Franchise is produced by Constantin Film, Davis Films and Impact Pictures.

On the specialty side, the industry paid close attention to the perf of David Cronenberg’s “Eastern Promises” as it went wide over the weekend in only its second frame.

In going wide so quickly, Focus Features was looking to mimic the success New Line enjoyed when taking Cronenberg’s “A History of Violence” wide in its second weekend, grossing $8.1 million from 1,340 runs.

“Promises” grossed an estimated $5.7 million from 1,404 playdates for a per-screen average of $4,093 and a cume of $6.5 million, putting it at No. 5.

Pointing to the crowded marketplace, Focus prexy of distribution Jack Foley said the film was off to a “solid, sturdy” start.

The competish, however, questioned taking a specialty title wide too quickly instead of taking the more traditional platform route and slowly building an aud, considering a marketplace where there are plenty of choices for more serious moviegoers,.

Far and away, the weekend’s winner among prestige titles was “Into the Wild,” directed by Sean Penn and based on the book by Jon Krakauer. Well-reviewed drama, starring Emile Hirsch, grossed an estimated $206,596 from four runs in Gotham and Los Angeles for a per-screen average of $51,649.

That’s among the top per-screen averages of all time for a limited release with a similar number of runs. Film’s performance is a needed boost for Vantage, which has suffered several box office disappointments this year.

“We couldn’t be happier with the results, both critically and at the box office,” a Vantage spokesperson said. “I think it bodes well for the ongoing strength of the picture.”

Vantage will expand this coming weekend into the top 10 or 12 markets, but no more.

The weekend’s other high-profile limited release was Warner Bros.’ “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford,” starring Brad Pitt and Casey Affleck. Film, directed by Andrew Dominik, grossed an estimated $144,000 from five runs in Gotham, Los Angeles and Toronto, for a per-screen average of $28,717.

Among its various plans for broadening the pic, Warners has decided to take the slower route. Over the weekend, Warners also held exclusive runs of the film in Austin, Texas, a common testing ground for Westerns.

“We are going to continue to roll it out on a platform basis. We will slowly expand. We don’t want to get caught speeding,” Warners prexy of distribution Dan Fellman said. “We have a movie that is very upscale, and that is also long, which restricts its runs. Sometimes, slower is better.”

“Jesse James” will keep the same five locations this weekend, before moving into an additional nine markets Oct. 9.

Sony Pictures Classics’ “The Jane Austen Book Club” debuted at an estimated $160,520 from 25 locations for a per-screen average of $6,421.

Among specialty pics expanding over the weekend, Sony/Revolution’s “Across the Universe” grossed an estimated $2 million from 276 runs for a per-screen average of $7,345 and a cume of $3 million. That put the Julie Taymor pic, constructed around the music of the Beatles, at No. 13.

Whimsical romancer is benefiting from the same sort of female interest that made New Line’s “Hairspray” a surprise performer. And like “Hairspray,” Taymor’s film is getting lots of repeat business.

“There’s no doubt that there are multiple viewings,” Sony prexy of distribution Rory Bruer said. “Basically, there are two different contingencies in the aud. There are older Beatle fans, but the majority has been a younger aud.”

Like Warners and Vantage, Bruer will stick to a traditional platform release.

Also expanding over the weekend was Warner Independent Pictures’ “In the Valley of Elah,” which placed No. 17, grossing an estimated $1.3 million from 317 runs for a per-screen average of $4,022 and a cume of $1.4 million.

“Elah,” directed by Paul Haggis and starring Tommy Lee Jones and Charlize Theron, is among the first of a handful of movies dealing with the consequences of the Iraq war and the Middle East. On Sept. 28, Universal bows “The Kingdom.”

Warner Independent distribution topper Steven Friedlander said “Elah” enjoyed a “very solid expansion,” and that the drama played well across all markets, helping to minimize worries that it wouldn’t play well in more conservative states because it would be perceived as a liberal title.

ThinkFilm docu “In the Shadow of the Moon,” about the Apollo astronauts, grossed an estimated $178,150 as it expanded to 67 locations in its third frame for a per-screen average of 2,659 and a cume of $341,661.

The Weinstein Co.-MGM’s “The Hunting Party,” starring Richard Gere and Terrence Howard, grossed an estimated $351,000 as it expanded to 329 locations in its third frame for a per-screen average of $1,067 and a cume of $543,814.

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