‘Rider’ in high gear

'Ghost' still tops at box office

Sony’s “Ghost Rider” ran roughshod over the B.O. competition for the second straight weekend, taking in $19.7 million, while a handful of widely released newcomers came in under expectations.

The Nicolas Cage comicbook actioner has scared up $78.6 million in two weekends of release despite poor reviews from crit-ics.

A batch of new titles had trouble gaining much of a toehold, but holdovers were able to maintain ground following a socko frame last weekend. Oscar weekend typically isn’t a strong one at the box office, as movie fans flock to the tube Sunday night.

It was also the second frame in a row in which early tracking numbers didn’t seem to hold up come Sunday morning.

New Line’s “The Number 23,” which had been tracking to perhaps scare up as much as $18 million-$20 million, debuted in second with $15.1 million.

Thriller did score a per-engagement average of $5,476 off 2,759 — good enough to beat the per-print average of the more widely released “Ghost.” And it was Jim Carrey’s second highest R-rated opener to date after that of the 2000 Farrelly brothers comedy “Me, Myself & Irene.” But the pic’s perf perhaps demonstrated that auds weren’t so keen on seeing funnyman Carrey in an edgy psychological potboiler. Pic also suffered from poor notices.

Carrey’s last pic, “Fun With Dick and Jane,” started with an OK opening weekend of $14.3 million before taking off to $110.3 million. That pic’s numbers actually grew 15% in its second frame and posted very slight drops throughout most of its run.

Fox’s R-rated bigscreen adaptation of the Comedy Central skein “Reno 911!,” dubbed “Reno 911!: Miami,” pulled into the No. 4 spot.

Tracking suggested the pic might’ve been in the hunt for a No. 1 finish, and Fox had been on a roll with comedies, including “Night at the Museum” and “Epic Movie,” but “Reno” arrested $10.4 million off 2,702 for a per-theater average of $3,849.

Warner Bros.’ “The Astronaut Farmer” also landed softly, in ninth place, in its debut. Pic performed below what the studio ex-pected, reeling in $4.5 million off 2,155.

One new highlight in the top 10 was Samuel Goldwyn and Roadside Attractions’ release of “Amazing Grace.” Political period piece wound up just behind “Farmer,” with $4.3 million off just 791 screens for a nifty per-engagement average of $5,442.

And while Hollywood prepared to walk the red carpet at the Academy Awards, box office for pics in Oscar contention didn’t jump too much over the weekend.

“Ghost’s” socko finish nonetheless helped overall B.O. grow slightly vs. the same weekend a year ago, when urban comedy “Madea’s Family Reunion” bowed at No. 1 with more than $30 million.

“Rider” slid 57% in its second frame. Pic lassoed a $5,442 per-theater average off 3,620.

Among holdovers, Disney and Walden’s “Bridge to Terabithia” held well in 3,139, flying to third place in its second frame and slipping just 40%. Cume is $46.2 million.

DreamWorks’ Eddie Murphy comedy “Norbit,” too, lost little steam, sliding 42% in its third weekend to bring in an additional $9.7 million and remain in the top five. Laffer’s cume is $74.6 million.

Warners’ “Music and Lyrics” dropped 42% in its second frame. Romantic comedy played to an even $8 million, the studio es-timated, off 2,955. Cume is just over $32 million.

Universal spy drama “Breach” continued to play above expectations. Pic took in $6.1 million more off 1,493 locations. Cume is about $20.5 million after two weekends.

Lionsgate’s “Daddy’s Little Girls,” from hyphenate Tyler Perry, dropped 53% from its opening frame. Pic, playing 2,111 en-gagements, has cumed $25.6 million after taking in an additional $5.25 million over the weekend.

Away from the top 10, Oscar-nommed pics didn’t move numbers north significantly.

Among the best pic contenders still in release, Warners’ “Letters From Iwo Jima” lost 30% of its ticket sales from a week ago. Pic played to $720,000 off 530. Cume is $12.85 million domestically.

Miramax’s “The Queen” dipped just over 13% in its 22nd weekend of release. Cume is $52.9 million.

Paramount Vantage’s “Babel,” which is winding down its theatrical run but still playing 289 locations, took in $232,803 for a per-theater average of $806.

Among other notable Oscar contenders, “Pan’s Labyrinth,” which has been one of the season’s few breakouts along with “Queen,” lost some steam as well. Pic dropped 40.5% of its ticket sales from the previous frame. Cume has played out to $32.3 million after nine weeks in theaters.

Fox Searchlight’s “The Last King of Scotland” lost just 4% vs. the prior frame. Pic roped in $850,000 off 334. Cume on the political pic totals just over $14 million.

On the foreign film front, the Weinstein Co. moved its Oscar-nommed “Days of Glory” to 18 screens and took in $73,179 for a per-location average of $4,067. Cume is $105,400.

Sony Classics’ Oscar-nommed “The Lives of Others,” a German import, hooked $500,850 in its third frame. Per-location av-erage remained high at $8,635 off 58. Cume is $1.37 million.

Grosses on the top 10 pics combined to hit $96.7 million, up from $95.3 a year ago. But the numbers came back down to Earth from last weekend, when the top 10 drove the B.O. to a record-breaking $138 million over three days.

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