Viral marketing pays off for Sony/TriStar sci-fi flick

After making “G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra” the number one film last weekend, fanboys moved on to their next indulgence at the multiplex Friday, Sony/Tri-Star’s “District 9,” shelling out a boffo $14.2 million for the Peter Jackson sci-fi prod about aliens in apartheid South Africa.

Not only did “District 9” easily outstrip four other wide releases opening against it yesterday, but continued to show Sony’s finesse for connecting R-rated fare with the young males at the August B.O. “District 9” marks the studio’s highest opening day for an R-rated August release after 2007’s “Superbad” ($12.3 million) and last summer’s “Pineapple Express” ($12.1 million).

Among all R-rated first days for the month, most of which belong to comedies, “District 9” ranks second behind “American Pie 2” ($16.5 million).

Sony/TriStar had aggressively promoted the film during the summer with a viral marketing campaign, teaser posters as well as a presence at the San Diego Comic-Con. Of particular note, were posters at bus stops and benches showing a cancelled-out alien symbol and reading “For Humans Only.”

Playing at 3,049 theaters, “District 9” was directed by South African helmer Neill Blomkamp. Blomkamp was originally attached to direct another Jackson production, the big screen version of vidgame “Halo” before that project stalled.

Proofing to be solid counter-programming to “District 9,” Warner Bros./New Line’s “Time Traveler’s Wife” took second place with $7.7 million off 2,988. The film based on the bestselling time-travel romance novel stars Eric Bana and Rachel McAdams. New Line previously reaped success in the summer of 2004 with “The Notebook,” another romance lit adaptation that featured McAdams. “Notebook” posted a $5.3 million first day and a $13.5 million opening weekend before sleeping its way to $81 million at the domestic B.O.

Yesterday’s other three wide releases saw single digits with Paramount Vantage’s Jeremy Piven used-car salesman comedy “The Goods: Live Hard and Sell Hard” minting $2 million from 1,838 runs. Disney’s Japanese animated pic “Ponyo” from filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki collected $1.2 million off 927 while Summit Entertainment/Walden Media’s co-production of “Bandslam” starring Vanessa Hudgens of “High School Musical” fame collected $880,000 off 2,121. Looking to lure more teens, Summit attached trailers for the “Twilight” sequel “New Moon” to prints of “Bandslam.”

Paramount’s “G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra” fell to third with $7.0 million off 4,007, repping a 68% drop and a running eight-day cume of $83.4 million. To date, “G.I. Joe” is the second-highest grossing August release for the Melrose studio behind 1994’s “Clear and Present Danger” ($122 million).

In fourth, Sony’s culinary comedy “Julie and Julia” drew $3.6 million in its second Friday off 2,354, declining 44% with an eight-day domestic cume of $34.9 million.

Disney’s 3-D guinea pig actioner “G-Force” ranked fifth in its fourth Friday with $2.1 million off 3,065, down 32% off 3,065 with a running B.O. of $94.2 million.

Among frosh limited fare bowing yesterday, Anchor Bay unspooled the Ashton Kutcher-Anne Heche comedy “Spread” about a high-end lothario who meets his romantic match. Pic took in $38,000 from 91 locales.

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