Sony film hits jackpot with $23.7 million

Gambling drama “21” beat the odds at the weekend box office, winning a respectable $23.7 million from 2,648 runs and coming in No. 1.

Sony film, directed by Robert Luketic, was inspired by the true story of six MIT students who swindled Las Vegas out of millions with the help of their professor.After “21,” other new offerings weren’t so fortunate in their bets, helping to drive the overall box office down more than 17% from the same weekend last year, when “Blades of Glory” and “Meet the Robinsons” led with $33 million and $25.1 million openings, respectively.

MGM and Dimension Films spoof “Superhero Movie” came in below expectations with an estimated $9.5 million from 2,960 runs, placing No. 3 for the frame, according to Rentrak. Pic was unable to match the perf of other recent sendups, including “Meet the Spartans,” which debuted to $18.5 million in January.

Paramount’s “Stop-Loss” became the latest Iraqi war film to be largely rejected by auds, grossing an estimated $4.5 million from 1,291 and hitting No. 8 in its bow; per-screen average was $3,505. Film is the first feature directing effort from Kimberly Peirce since 1999’s “Boys Don’t Cry.”

Picturehouse comedy “Run Fatboy Run” saw so-so results. Directed by David Schwimmer, film posted a per-screen average of $2,109 as it grossed an estimated $2.4 million from 1,133.

Among holdovers, there were several bright spots.

Twentieth Century Fox’s “Dr. Seuss’ Horton Hears a Who” continued to draw in its third frame, coming in a strong No. 2 for the weekend. Family toon declined 29% to an estimated $17.4 million from 3,826; cume is $117.2 million, marking the first film of 2008 to jump the $100 million mark at the domestic B.O.

Lionsgate crime caper pic “The Bank Job” quietly continued to hold its own as well, declining 33% to an estimated $2.8 million from 1,605 runs; cume is $24.1 million. British pic, placing No. 10 in its fourth week, has been on the top 10 chart since it opened.

Directed by Roger Donaldson and starring Jason Statham and Saffron Burrows, “Bank Job” is based on the true story of a famous 1970s London heist that takes an unexpected turn.

Like “Bank Job,” Luketic’s “21” relied on an intriguing and true storyline. Cast of “21” includes Jim Sturgess, Kevin Spacey and Kate Bosworth. Peter Steinfeld and Allan Loeb adapted from Ben Mezrich’s popular nonfiction tome “Bringing Down the House.”

Sony prexy of domestic distribution Rory Bruer credited a great cast, a compelling story and out-of-the-box marketing for the film’s perf.

“People knew they were in for a fun ride. The film brought to life a world you really felt you were a part of. We got a great mix, from older adults to younger adults, to males and to females,” Bruer said. “It was cool, fresh and different.”

Tracking had suggested that the movie, which didn’t receive great reviews, would draw primarily younger males. Yet females made up 47% of the aud. In terms of age breakdown, 47% were over 25.

Film scored Luketic his best opening and his first feature drama. The helmer is known for broad comedies including “Monster-in-Law” and “Legally Blonde.”

The staggered Easter school break continued to help “Horton,” along with little or no competition. It is the third successful animated tentpole that Fox has opened in March after the two “Ice Age” movies.

Fox VP of domestic distribution Bert Livingston said “Horton” is thriving on great word of mouth. He also said the weekend’s year-over-year B.O. decline isn’t a reason for concern, particularly if “Blades of Glory” is factored out of last year’s tally.

“I think it was a good moviegoing weekend. Films did good business,” Livingston said.

Still, the recent B.O. downturn is slowly eroding year-to-date gains. Heading into the weekend, the domestic B.O. was up 3% over the same period in 2007. Through Sunday, box office grosses were only up 0.64%, according to Media by Numbers. Last year saw the biggest March opening ever, for “300.”

So far, 2008 is still up by greater margins over 2006 and 2005, but with the economy teetering, there is apprehension on most studio lots. History teaches that the movie biz is recession-proof, but no one is taking that for granted.

Among other holdovers over the weekend, Lionsgate’s “Tyler Perry’s Meet the Browns” remained high the box office chart in its second weekend, coming in No. 4, though it did decline a hefty 61% to an estimated $7.8 million from 2,016 runs. Cume is $32.8 million.

Placing No. 5, Paramount’s Owen Wilson laffer “Drillbit Taylor” fell 44% in its second weekend to an estimated $5.8 million from 3,061 for a cume of $19.1 million. It’s the second soft B.O. showing for a Judd Apatow-produced comedy, after “Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story.”

Fox’s other title in the market, “Shutter,” didn’t enjoy the same sort of holding power as “Horton,” declining 49% in its second weekend to place No. 6.

“Shutter,” distributed on behalf of New Regency, grossed an estimated $5.3 million from 2,756 for a cume of $19.1 million in its first 10 days.

If Par had modest expectations for “Drillbit,” it expected even less from “Stop-Loss” considering the poor returns for films trying to tackle the issues of Iraq and Middle East geopolitics. If there’s good news, it’s that the film wasn’t expensive.

One Par executive said no matter how many times they tested the movie, toplining Ryan Phillippe, and made alterations, auds always turned off at the underlying issue of the Iraqi war.

Of those turning out to see “Stop-Loss,” 61% were females, while 45% of the aud was under age 25.

On the specialized side, the Weinstein Co. and Fox Searchlight’s America Ferrera starrer “Under the Same Name” declined 19% from the previous weekend as it added 124 screens in markets where the Spanish-language film was already playing.

Film grossed an estimated $3.2 million from 390 runs for a per-screen average of $5,771 — the second best per-location average after “21” among the top 20 films.

Weinstein Co. distribution topper Steve Bennell said the film is in great shape as it prepares to expand to new, top markets this coming weekend.

Among specialty films opening, ThinkFilm’s Italian dramedy “My Brother Is an Only Child” scored the best per-screen average of any film over the weekend, grossing an estimated $10,500 from one theater in New York.

Magnolia’s Demi Moore-Michael Caine starrer “Flawless” grossed an estimated $180,000 as it opened in 35 locations for a per-theater average of $5,143. Samuel Goldwyn’s “Priceless” grossed an estimated $117,000 from 24 for a per-screen average of $4,875.

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