'Sarah' settles for second

Lionsgate and the Weinstein Co.’s Jet Li-Jackie Chan starrer “Forbidden Kingdom” was the surprise black-belt master of the weekend box office, beating out Universal’s Judd Apatow romantic comedy “Forgetting Sarah Marshall.”

“Forbidden Kingdom,” produced by Casey Silver, grossed an estimated $20.9 million as it opened in 3,151 theaters on the strength of its star billing and friendly PG-13 rating. It’s the first time Chan and Li have appeared together on the bigscreen.

The heavily marketed and R-rated “Sarah Marshall” grossed an estimated $17.3 million from 2,798 runs to place No. 2, according to Rentrak.

Perf is a mixed bag for Apatow. “Sarah Marshall” opened better than the previous two comedies coming out of the Apatow camp, “Drillbit Taylor” ($10.3 million) and “Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story” ( $4.2 million), but fell short of the openings of “Superbad” ($33 million), “Knocked Up” ($30.7 million) and “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” ($21.4 million).

Combined, “Forbidden Kingdom” and “Sarah Marshall” were a shot in the arm for the sluggish box office, which has been consistently running behind 2007 levels. Weekend grosses were up 9.1% over the same frame last year, when “Disturbia” led in its second weekend with $13 million and “Fracture” opened to only $11 million.

Sony holdover “Prom Night” came in No. 3 for the weekend, declining 56% in its second sesh to an estimated $9.1 million from 2,700 runs for a cume of $32.6 million in the horror pic’s first 10 days.

Jon Avnet’s Al Pacino starrer “88 Minutes” — the weekend’s other new wide release — came in No. 4, grossing $6.8 million from 2,168 locations. Distributed domestically by Sony, the poorly reviewed film has already played overseas.

Ben Stein’s documentary “Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed” made the top 10 chart at No. 9, grossing $3.1 million from 1,052 runs for a per- location average of $2,997 after being heavily marketed to conservative religious auds. Docu examines what it says is the attempt of science to suppress the discussion and teaching of intelligent design.

Opening in only 102 locations, Weinstein Co.’s Morgan Spurlock docu “Where in the World Is Osama Bin Laden?” grossed an estimated $143,299 for a tepid per-screen average of $1,405.

Younger males turned out in droves for “Forbidden Kingdom.” Of the aud, 58% were males, while 54% were under the age of 25.

“Forbidden Kingdom” revolves around a teenager (Michael Angarano), who travels back to ancient China and joins up with a band of martial arts warriors to save the legendary Monkey King.

“It was a stroke of genius to pair Jackie Chan and Jet Li,” said Lionsgate prexy of distribution Steve Rothenberg. “Those are exactly the numbers we were striving for. We wanted to get the older martial arts crowd, but we also wanted the teenagers.”

“Forbidden Kingdom” marks the eighth film in a row that Lionsgate has opened to No.1 or No. 2. Lionsgate and TWC are partners on the film, which was financed by Relativity Media. Lionsgate is domestic distrib, while TWC, through its Asian Film Fund, is distributing in some overseas territories.

TWC topper Harvey Weinstein said he believes the film will tap into the family market. “It’s really a four-quadrant movie,” he said.

“Forbidden Kingdom” earned an A- CinemaScore, while “Sarah Marshall” earned a B.

Well-reviewed “Sarah Marshall” played slightly younger and slightly female. Of the aud, 53% were women, while 56% were under the age of 30.

U said it was a terrific start, considering the time of year, and that the film cost only $30 million to produce. Studio predicted the film will have strong legs, although competition could get fierce as the box office moves into summer on May 2, not to mention that U opens Tina Fey-Amy Poehler laffer “Baby Mama” next weekend.

Comedy didn’t have the advantage of a particularly well-known cast, or director. Nicholas Stoller directed, while Jason Segel wrote and starred. Both are members of Apatow’s troupe.

“I think this is a great result, considering how bad the market has been,” said Universal prexy of domestic distribution Nikki Rocco. “Comedy works, and I think people know the Judd Apatow brand, and his films always have a great multiple. This is in that category.”

U prexy of marketing and distribution Adam Fogelson concurred, saying he expects the pic to do four times its opening gross, meaning around $70 million, if not more.

Last summer, U’s “Knocked Up” grossed $148.8 million domestically, while Sony’s “Superbad” cumed $121.5 million. In 2005, Apatow burst on the scene with “The 40-Year-Old Virgin,” which grossed $109.4 million. (Apatow directed “Knocked Up” and “Virgin.”)

The prolific Apatow is involved with two upcoming summer films, the Adam Sandler starrer “You Don’t Mess With the Zohan,” which he wrote and produced, and “Pineapple Express,” which he produced.

“Sarah Marshall” was originally set to open May 30, but U moved up the release, in part to get out of the way of “Sex and the City,” which opens the same day. Studio’s “Baby Mama” was always set to open April 25.

While holdover “Prom Night” stood up well against the new competish, Fox Searchlight and New Regency’s R-rated cop actioner “Street Kings” took a steep 68% decline its second sesh to place No. 7. Keanu Reeves-Forest Whitaker starrer grossed an estimated $4 million from 2,469 runs for a cume of $19.9 million. Big Fox is distributing the film.

Fox senior VP of distribution Bert Livingston said he wasn’t sure why itdropped, particularly since the film ranked No. 1 during the week, ahead of “Prom Night.” He said other titles, including “88 Minutes,” may have taken business away.

Smaller fare

On the specialty side, Overture’s “The Visitor” nabbed one of the best per-screen averages of the weekend as it expanded in its second sesh. Film grossed an estimated $163,000 from 18 theaters for a per-screen average of $9,056 and a cume of $280,000.

Searchlight’s docu “Young at Heart” grossed an estimated $144,703 from 33 runs in its second weekend for a per-location average of $4,385 and a cume of $225,617.

Paramount Classics’ Rolling Stones docu “Shine a Light,” directed by Martin Scorsese, grossed an estimated $581,000 from 220 runs for a per- screen average of $2,541 and a cume of $3.8 million in the film’s third frame.

MGM’s “Pathology” grossed an estimated $50,000 from 46 runs for a per-site average of $1,087.

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