Political thriller wins weekend

“Vantage Point” staked out the best view at the Oscar weekend box office, as Sony’s “Rashomon”-style political thriller grossed an estimated $24 million from 3,149 theaters and the Academy Awards best picture contenders enjoyed a late B.O. bump ahead of the kudocast.

“No Country for Old Men” in particular was up 19%, grossing an estimated $2.3 million from 1,101 theaters; cume is $64.2 million in its 16th frame. And Fox Searchlight’s “Juno” continued to deliver, adding another $4.1 million to its tally to tie for the No. 7 spot with the debut of “Be Kind Rewind.”

The New Line comedy starring Jack Black bowed to a solid per-screen average of $5,074, grossing an estimated $4.1 million from 808 screens, according to Rentrak.

But the other new offerings weren’t so lucky.

MGM-Sidney Kimmel Entertainment’s R-rated teen dramedy “Charlie Bartlett,” Lionsgate’s “Witless Protection” and the expansion of National Geographic Film’s concert pic “U2 3D” couldn’t crack the top 10, leaving plenty of ground for holdovers.

“Witless,” which stars Larry the Cable Guy, grossed an estimated $2.2 million from 1,333 screens to come in No. 13. Movie is the second in a row toplining the comedian that has bowed below expectations.

“Bartlett,” tagged with an R rating, came in at No. 14, grossing an estimated $1.8 million from 1,122 runs. Pic’s release had been delayed several times.

“U2 3D” grossed an estimated $1 million from 686 digital 3-D runs as it expanded nationwide; cume is $4.8 million in its fifth week. Concert film has been overshadowed by the extended run of Disney tween hit “Hannah Montana/Miley Cyrus: Best of Both Worlds Concert Tour,” which has taken up valuable 3-D screen space.

With tepid results for most of the new entries, box office was down more than 7% vs. the same weekend last year, when “Ghost Rider” led in its second weekend with $20 million, according to Media by Numbers.

Miramax’s “No Country for Old Men” enjoyed a 19% week-to-week surge as moviegoers did their customary rush to theaters on the Friday and Saturday of Oscar weekend to catch up on their viewing before the kudocast. On the flip side, the Oscars typically take out a bite of box office on Sunday.

The race for No. 2 at the domestic box office was a relatively close one between holdovers “Jumper” and “The Spiderwick Chronicles,” both in their second sesh.

“Jumper,” from 20th Century Fox and New Regency, declined 54% to an estimated $12.7 million from 3,430 runs. Cume is $56.2 million in the pic’s first 10 days.

Par family fantasy “Spiderwick” declined 34% to an estimated $12.6 million from 3,847 for a cume of $43.6 million through its first 10 days in release. Film is well positioned to play strongly, as there isn’t another family film until Fox bows “Horton Hears a Who!” on March 14.

“Vantage Point” gives Sony its first No. 1 movie of 2008. It is the studio’s third release of the year after Diane Lane thriller “Untraceable” and Screen Gems’ urban laffer “First Sunday.”

Directed by Pete Travis, “Vantage Point” stars Dennis Quaid, Matthew Fox, Forest Whitaker, Sigourney Weaver and William Hurt in the story of an attempted U.S. presidential assassination, as seen from various viewpoints.

Movie, which had been expected to skew older, drew an unexpectedly diverse crowd, with 51% of the aud 30 years or younger. Gender-wise, 52% of the aud was male.

The success of “Vantage Point” and “Jumper,” coming on the heels of Par’s monster pic “Cloverfield,” suggest that fresh storylines and films executed in a way that stand out with auds can do strong biz. It also helped that all three movies were marketed aggressively.

“The movie just had this great suspense, and it was a fresh approach,” Sony prexy of distribution Rory Burer said of “Vantage Point.”

Opening day-and-date, “Jumper” has been a strong overseas performer, grossing $21.9 million over the weekend for an international cume of $61.2 million. That puts the film’s worldwide cume at $117.4 million.

“It is about escapism and fantasy set in a real storyline,” Fox senior VP of distribution Chris Aronson said.

Among other holdovers, Disney’s dance-romancer “Step Up 2 the Streets” came in at No. 4 for the frame, declining 48% to $9.8 million from 1,480 runs; cume is $41.4 million. Sidney Kimmel co-produced.

Warner Bros. continued to mine riches with “Fool’s Gold,” which declined 51% to gross $6.3 million from 3,075 and come in at No. 5. Cume is $52.4 million in its third frame.

Universal/Working Title’s romancer “Definitely, Maybe” dipped 47% in its second frame to $5.2 million from 2,220 to place sixth; cume is $21.8 million.

U also took the No. 9 spot with Martin Lawrence laffer “Welcome Home Roscoe Jenkins,” which declined 53% in its third frame to $4 million from 1,873 for a cume of $35.5 million.

Rounding out the top 10 was Paramount Vantage’s “There Will Be Blood,” which declined just 16% in its ninth frame to $2.6 million from 1,402 runs; cume is now $35 million.

German film “The Counterfeiters,” a contender in the Oscar foreign-language race about a Nazi scheme to counterfeit currency, posted the highest per-screen average of the weekend at $12,559. Film, distribbed domestically by Sony Pictures Classics, grossed an estimated $100,469 from eight screens in its U.S. debut.

Up next in terms of per-location average was IFC’s French drama-romance “The Duchess of Langeais,” which grossed an estimated $22,514 from two screens for a per-location average of $11,257.

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