'Meet Dave' fails to meet audiences

The weekend box office brought both victory and defeat as Universal’s “Hellboy II: The Golden Army” did hellacious business in debuting to an estimated $35.9 million, while 20th Century Fox and New Regency’s “Meet Dave” saw one of the worst openings ever for an Eddie Murphy pic in grossing just $5.3 million.

Landing somewhere in the middle was New Line and Walden Media’s 3-D action-adventure “Journey to the Center of the Earth,” which grossed an estimated $20.6 million from 2,811 runs in the widest test yet of digital 3-D fare. The lion’s share of the gross came from higher-priced 3-D tickets, according to distributor Warner Bros.

“Golden Army,” directed by Guillermo del Toro and playing in 3,204 theaters, beat out Will Smith holdover “Hancock” for the weekend crown on the strength of males and a surprisingly older audience. Opening perf is a victory for del Toro and Universal, which took over the film franchise from Sony. Sequel opened $12 million higher than del Toro’s original “Hellboy.”

“Journey” placed No. 3 in its bow.

“Meet Dave,” placing only No. 7, is the second high-profile summer comedy to take a free-fall after Mike Myers’ “The Love Guru,” which opened at $13.9 million. Both comedies cost around $60 million.

Distributors weren’t surprised that the weekend was down by as much as 18% over the same frame last year, when “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix” debuted to $77 million. The past two weekends have eroded the gains Hollywood was making at the 2008 summer box office, although the July 18 openings of Warner’s “The Dark Knight” and U’s “Mamma Mia” should reverse that trend.

Among holdovers, Sony’s “Hancock” still had plenty of punch in its second sesh, declining a very respectable 47% in its second weekend to an estimated $33 million from 3,965 for a domestic cume of $165 million and a worldwide total of $345.2 million in under two weeks.

Disney-Pixar’s “Wall-E” did nearly as much business as “Journey,” despite being in its third sesh. Coming in No. 4 for the weekend, toon declined 43% to an estimated $18.5 million from 3,849 runs for a cume of $162.8 million. DreamWorks Animation and Paramount’s “Kung Fu Panda” jumped the $200 million mark, declining 41% in its sixth frame to an estimated $4.3 million for a domestic cume of $202 million.

Despite a thriving marketplace for family pics, “Meet Dave” couldn’t find its way. Film is the third-lowest opening for a Murphy pic after the 2002 “The Adventures of Pluto Nash” ($2.2 million) and the 1998 “The Holy Man” ($5.1 million). “Nash” cumed $4.4 million domestically, while “Holy Man” grossed $12 million.

“Meet Dave” — which actually received a decent “B” CinemaScore — has Murphy playing two roles; that of an alien spaceship made to look like a human, and the ship’s miniature alien captain. Originally, the pic was titled “Starship Dave.” Film’s poor debut is a rare blemish for Fox and its marketing team.

“Obviously, the concept was tough for us to get across,” said Fox senior VP of distribution Bert Livingston. “It’s good family entertainment, but it was hard to get traction. Not enough people came.”

Livingston said the studio was obviously disappointed, both for itself and its two financing partners, New Regency and private equity fund Dune Capital Management.

Murphy can be testy about doing pre-release press, and raised eyebrows last week when he failed to show up for the premiere of “Meet Dave” in Westwood.

On the other end of the spectrum, Universal said the successful opening of the aggressively marketed “Golden Army” both cements the “Hellboy” film franchise, based on the Dark Horse Comics character, and continues the studio’s winning streak at the summer box office.

“This is an incredible result. No other studio wanted to do this, but Universal had the wherewithal to do it. You had a very talented filmmaker, plus a great marketing campaign that created a huge demand,” said U prexy of distribution Nikki Rocco.

“Golden Army’s” audience breakdown intrigued competing studios. Of Friday’s audience, 69% were male, while a sizeable 58% were over the age of 25, pointing to del Toro’s draw. A full 10% were over the age of 50, while 34% were 35 and older.

Audience broadened out somewhat Saturday, with more of a balance, both in age and gender. A majority of the audience had seen the first “Hellboy,” whether in theaters or on DVD. “Hellboy,” produced by Joe Roth’s Revolution and released via Sony, cumed $59 domestically.

Rocco said the studio already is eyeing a third “Hellboy.”

Toplining Brendan Fraser, “Journey” played predominately to families, or 60% of the aud. It is the first live-action movie shot in digital 3-D.

Last fall, there were only about 650 digital 3-D screens installed when Paramount went out with motion-capture epic “Beowulf,” which opened to $27.5 million on its way to coming $82.2 million domestically.

“Journey” was able to open on about 854, although Hollywood had hoped there would be more digital 3-D screens installed by now.

“This is a great and interesting result,” said Warners prexy of domestic distribution Dan Fellman. “The 3-D screens outperformed the regular runs by 3-1.”

“Journey’s” gross from the 854 digital 3-D screens was $11.7 million. That means 57% of “Journey’s” opening number came from just a third of the full theater count. Or, put another way, the per-screen average for the 3-D runs was $13,736, compared with $4,522 for the regular runs. Figures are a testament to the added revenues distribs and theaters owners can make from 3-D releases.

A ticket for a 3-D movie is $3 to $4 more on average. According to New Line, the production budget for “Journey” was under $55 million.

Elsewhere at the weekend box office, Picturehouse’s “Kit Kittredge: An American Girl” stayed on the top 10 chart, declining just 29% to an estimated $2.3 million from 1,849 runs for a cume of $11 million in the film’s second weekend in wide release.

“American Girl,” based on the wildly popular doll line, began as a limited release in the hopes of building word of mouth. It is one of the last releases from Bob Berney’s Picturehouse, which Warners is shuttering. Picturehouse’s specialty release “Mongol” grossed an estimated $517,872 from 252 runs over the weekend for a cume of $4.3 million.

On the specialty side, Music Box Films’ French thriller “Tell No One” (Ne Le Dis A Personne) scored the best location average of the entire weekend, grossing $284,674 from 19 runs for a per location average of $13,088 and a cume of $549,841 in its third weekend.

Sony Pictures Classics holdover “The Wackness” grossed an estimated $217,105 from 31 screens for a per-location average of $7,003 and a cume of $471,354 in its second weekend.

Among new specialty offerings, ThinkFilm’s docu “Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired,” which has already played on HBO television, grossed an estimated $5,500 from one theater in Gotham in its debut. First Look’s “August” opened to an estimated $6,505 from one theater in Gotham.

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