Warner Bros. pic wins weekend with $32.5 mil

Warner Bros.’ “Where the Wild Things Are” topped the domestic box office in a wild and woolly October weekend that saw a number of films thrive, driving ticket sales up as much as 40% over the same frame last year.

The Spike Jonze-helmed “Wild Things,” based on Maurice Sendak’s children’s classic book, played more like an adult movie than a family pic, grossing an estimated $32.5 million from 3,735 theaters. Overture Films saw its biggest opening yet with Jamie Foxx-Gerard Butler starrer “Law Abiding Citizen,” which took an estimated $21.3 million from 2,890 to place No. 2.

Sony/Screen Gems’ “The Stepfather,” the weekend’s third nationwide opener, bowed to an estimated $12.3 million from 2,734 to place No. 5 behind Paramount’s sleeper hit “Paranormal Activity” and Universal laffer “Couples Retreat.”

“Paranormal Activity” took the No. 3 spot with $20.2 million as it expanded to 760 theaters in its fourth weekend, posting a 155% uptick and a boffo per-screen average of $26,530. Par’s micro-budgeted pic has cumed an estimated $33.7 million, and the studio plans to expand to some 1,800 locations starting next weekend.

“Couples Retreat” dipped a respectable 48% in its second sesh to an estimated $17.9 million from 3,009.

Highest-grossing pic during the comparable weekend last year was “Max Payne,” which bowed to $17.6 million. Overall, the frame’s top 10 films earned a collective gross of $126.9 million. The same weekend last year topped out at near $80 million.

At the specialty box office, Sundance winner “The Maid” opened in one theater to an estimated $18,418. Among holdovers, Sony Pictures Classics’ “An Education” grossed $266,044 as it expanded to 19 theaters in its soph sesh, for a per-location average of $14,002 and cume of $504,974.

Focus Features’ “A Serious Man,” from the Coen brothers, enjoyed a healthy expansion in its third frame, grossing an estimated $860,257 at 82 for a location average of $10,491 and cume of $1.9 million.

At the international box office, Disney/Pixar’s “Up” won the weekend, grossing $27.9 million from 4,500 playdates in 24 territories, bringing the toon’s overseas cume to $295.8 million. Frame’s haul was led by a stellar Brit soph sesh of $9 million.

“Up’s” perf is a testament to the enduring playability of family pics, but whether Jonze’s “Wild Things” can gain the same traction with younger auds remains a question mark.

Jonze, who began shooting “Wild Things” in 2006, went through several versions of the film before finalizing the pic’s darker feel. Warner prexy of domestic distribution Dan Fellman said positive reviews so far, combined with potential awards appeal, has helped garner support among its broad audience.

“Spike has done an incredible job with the movie,” Fellman said. “I think we have an interesting film that should play well through the next few weeks.”

Although pic’s rated PG, 43% of the aud was over age 18, while only 27% were families. Tellingly, “Wild Things” saw only a 2% uptick from Friday to Saturday; family titles usually see big gains on Saturday.

With an estimated $75 million budget paid partly by Village Roadshow (50%) and Legendary Pictures (25%), the movie has been aggressively marketed by Warner to an older set, including fanboys (“Wild Things” got a big plug at Comic-Con). Those moves appear to have paid off. Friday’s haul of $12.1 million included $700,000 in midnight shows, while the 145 Imax engagements turned in $3.1 million for the weekend — 10% of the total opening.

While Warner is no doubt breathing a sign of relief at the successful bow of “Wild Things,” Overture and the Film Department scored an important victory with “Law Abiding Citizen.”

Overture’s previous highest opener was “Righteous Kill” with $16.3 million.

Par’s “Paranormal Activity” — like “Where the Wild Things Are” — is something of an oddball success story. Film, bought primarily for remake rights, is benefiting from an intense viral marketing campaign and word of mouth. Pic began with only a midnight run but has now expanded into other dayparts based on demand.

Last week’s frame topper, Universal’s “Couples Retreat” declined 48% for a cume of $63.3 million.

Sony’s 3D toon “Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs” dropped 30% in its fifth frame with $8.1 million at 3,037 playdates, while the studio’s other holdover, “Zombieland,” took in $7.8 million at 3,171, declining 47% in its third frame.

“Cloudy” has cumed $108.3 million, becoming Sony Animation’s first title to surpass $100 million.

Disney’s 3D double bill “Toy Story” and “Toy Story 2″ grossed $3 million at 1,489, pushing cume to $28.6 million. The Mouse extended the toons’ slated two-week run until the launch of Robert Zemeckis’ 3D title “A Christmas Carol” on Nov. 2.

Among new specialty openers, Vivendi’s “New York, I Love You” grossed $372,107 as it opened in 119 theaters for a per-screen average of $3,127. Apparition’s “Black Dynamite” opened to a per-location average of $2,014 as it grossed an estimated $140,986 from 70 playdates.

Holdover “Coco Before Chanel” continues to see strong returns. The Sony Classics release grossed an estimated $311,955 from 54 in its fourth frame for a per-location average of $5,777.

Roadside Attractions’ release of the Chris Rock co-produced docu “Good Hair” took in an estimated $437,000 at 174 playdates for a theater average of $2,511. Cume is $1.8 million.

Lionsgate’s sports docu “More Than a Game,” about NBA star LeBron James, expanded from 44 to 107 engagements, grossing $207,508 in its third frame for a per-location average of $1,939 and cume of $605,465.

Disney dominated the international B.O. thanks to “Up,” with help from “G-Force” and “Surrogates.”

The Mouse saw solid biz from “G-Force” with $12.5 million at 3,255 in 44 markets — driven by a first-place $4.2 million German launch. “G-Force” foreign cume is $128 million, $10 million ahead of the domestic total, with China, Japan and South Korea still to open.

“Surrogates” added $3.9 million at 2,715 in 31 markets for a foreign cume of $46.9 million.

U’s “Couples Retreat” added to last week’s early bows in Australia and New Zealand with openings in the U.K., Russia and Ukraine, with an estimated $6.8 million from 926 playdates. Pic performed well in the U.K. with $3 million, placing second to “Up.”

Sony’s holdover “The Ugly Truth” earned $8.8 million on 2,305 screens in 63 markets, opening in Spain with $3 million behind last week’s topper in that territory, “Agora,” which earned $4.4 million.

“Cloudy” continued to perform well overseas, with $3.7 million on 1,810 in 35 markets, bringing its international cume to $35. 4 million.

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