Universal pigskin pic drops box office ball

Universal’s George Clooney-Renee Zellweger period screwball comedy “Leatherheads” was sacked at the weekend box office, losing out to Sony holdover “21” and all but tying with 20th Century Fox’s family adventure-fantasy “Nim’s Island” for the No. 2 spot.

Directed by and starring Clooney, “Leatherheads” grossed an estimated $13.5 million from 2,769 theaters, according to Rentrak, while “21” declined only 37% in its second sesh to an estimated $15.1 million from 2,653 locations.

“Leatherheads” was widely predicted to win the weekend, with U believing it could overcome the challenges associated with marketing a genre whose heyday has long since passed, aided by Clooney’s star appeal. Poor reviews, however, likely dampened turnout among older moviegoers, the pic’s key demo.

“Nim’s Island” gave a needed boost for label Fox-Walden, grossing an estimated $13.3 million from 3,513 theaters. Film came in on the higher end of expectations, giving Fox its second family title in the top five after “Dr. Seuss’ Horton Hears a Who!”

While U puts itself ahead of Fox in its Sunday estimates, the majority of studios had “Nim’s” — starring Jodie Foster, Gerard Butler and Abigail Breslin — ahead of “Leatherheads.” Question will be resolved Monday when final weekend B.O. numbers are released.

Overall, the domestic box office downturn continued. Sesh was down 23.1% over the same frame in 2007, although that decline is slightly mitigated by Easter falling on that weekend last year.

April often can be a dull time at the B.O. in the lull before summer, although studios could be looking at a particularly tough time this year — between Easter coming early and moviegoers being lukewarm. That puts even more pressure on summer performance.

Through Sunday, year-to-date revenues slipped behind the same time period in 2007 by 1.75% after running ahead for much of 2008.

Among the weekend’s additional new offerings, DreamWorks/Paramount’s R-rated horror title “The Ruins” played soft as expected, grossing an estimated $7.8 million from 2,812 locations.

In more limited play, Martin Scorsese’s Rolling Stones concert docu “Shine A Light,” from Paramount Classics, grossed an estimated $1.5 million from 276 locations, with 93 of those runs being large format Imax theaters. Per location average was $5,475, with $1.1 million of the gross coming from Imax theaters, which charge more per ticket.

Par Classics has no immediate plans for expanding “Shine A Light.” Half of the audience was over the age of 50, while only 25% was under the age of 35. Pic skewed slightly male at 55%.

“Leatherheads” also saw the most interest among the older set. Of the aud, 75% was over the age of 30, while 50% of the aud over the age of 40. The romantic comedy, set in the early days of pro football, got a disappointing Cinemascore of C+.

“Leatherheads” is Clooney’s third directing effort after “Good Night, And Good Luck,” which grossed $31.5 million domestically, and “Confessions of a Dangerous Mind,” which grossed $16 million. Both opened in limited runs.

As comparisons, Clooney starred in the offbeat Coen brothers’ romantic comedy “Intolerable Cruelty,” which opened to $12.5 million in October 2003 and grossed $35 million domestically. “One Fine Day,” a bonafide commercial romantic comedy, opened to $6.2 million in 1996 on its way to grossing $46.1 million.

U expected “Leatherheads” to open closer to $20 million. Pic cost roughly $58 million to produce.

“The results are less than we hoped for. The movie is a fun ride, and it doesn’t take itself too seriously. George Clooney is a great director, and I think they came for him. I’m disappointed for him” Universal prexy of distribution Nikki Rocco said. “Having said that, there is a lot going on. I do think the basketball playoffs hurt attendance in the big cities. What really upsets me is the level of overall business.”

For the weekend, “Horton” came in No. 4, declining 49% in its fifth session to $9.1 million from 3,571 locations for a cume of $131 million. The release of “Nim’s” likely contributed to “Horton’s” decline.

Year-to-date, Fox leads in marketshare at 24% based on family hits like “Horton” and 2007 holdover “Alvin and the Chipmunks.”

“Nim’s” appealed heavily to mothers and daughters, but sons and fathers turned out as well. Of the aud, 60% were female, while 51% were over the age of 25. Pic cost $37 million to produce, and got an A- Cinemascore.

“‘Nim’s’ was an island oasis for family audiences. If you have a quality family film with an appealing storyline and an appealing cast, there will always be a market for it,” Fox senior VP of distribution Chris Aronson said.

“Nim’s” is the third release from Fox-Walden, a joint venture between Fox and Walden Media that calls for a slate of moderately budgeted family films. The first film, “The Seeker: The Dark is Rising,” grossed only $8.8 million after a $3.7 million opening, while “Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium” grossed $32 million after a $9.6 million opening.

Sony prexy of domestic distribution Rory Bruer said “21” is enjoying strong word-of-mouth. Pic’s cume through the first 10 days is a robust $46.5 million, reflecting its popularity with younger men and women.

In its second weekend, Par’s Iraqi war drama “Stop-Loss” fell off the top 10 chart to No. 11, declining 49% to an estimated $2.3 million from 1,294 runs for a cume of $8.2 million.

In a more unusual offering, the Metropolitan Opera’s live hi-def theatrical broadcast of “La Boheme” Saturday grossed $2 million from 469 theaters in North America. Broadcast grossed $620,692 from overseas theaters. Saturday’s broadcast included being beamed into 19 Princess Cruise Ships.

Smaller stuff

On the specialty side, the Weinstein Co.’s “My Blueberry Nights” grossed an estimated $73,742 as it opened in six theaters in New York and Los Angeles for a strong per screen average of $12,290.

IFC First Take’s “The Flight of the Red Balloon” had the best per screen average of the weekend, grossing an estimated $36,000 in its opening at two theaters for an average of $18,000.

Zeitgeist Films’ “Jellyfish” grossed an estimated $29,000 in its opening at four theaters for a per screen average of $7,250.

Among specialty holdovers, TWC and Fox Searchlight’s “Under the Same Moon” declined 24% to an estimated $1.7 million from 437 locations for a per screen average of $3,913 and a cume of $9 million in its third weekend.

Peace Arch Entertainment’s “Chapter 27” grossed an estimated $16,467 from five runs as it expanded to Los Angeles, posting a per screen average of $3,293.

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