'Julie & Julia' cooks up solid start

With the $100.3 million worldwide opening of “G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra,” Paramount has added another action franchise to Hollywood’s toy chest and provided further evidence that August no longer means dog days for the box office.

“G.I. Joe” — attracting families as well as younger and older men — scored one of the best August openings of all time, grossing an estimated $56.2 million from 4,007 runs. Overseas, the film grossed $44.1 million from 35 markets to easily win the sesh. The strong opening should encourage Paramount to go ahead with a sequel.

Elsewhere, older women bypassed “G.I. Joe” and flocked to Sony’s Meryl Streep-Amy Adams starrer “Julie and Julia,” which grossed $20.1 million from 2,354 runs in its opening at the domestic B.O. Pic placed No. 2.

Rogue Pictures’ thriller “A Perfect Getaway,” distributed by Universal, disappointed with $5.8 million from 2,159 runs to place No. 7 for its opening weekend.

On the specialty side, Fox Searchlight’s “500 Days of Summer” surpassed “Sunshine Cleaning” as the top-grossing platform release of the year as it expanded nationwide in its fourth frame. Dramedy took in an estimated $3.7 million from 817 runs for a per-location average of $4,559 and cume of $12.3 million, landing at No. 10.

August has traditionally been a sleepy time at the B.O., but that’s been changing in recent years as distribs look for any open spots. This year is especially crowded and will remain that way over the next few weeks, including the release of Sony’s “District 9″ on Friday. So far, the results are promising. Weekend was up more than 22% over the same frame last year.

But not all are finding their moment in the sun. Universal’s Judd Apatow-directed comedy “Funny People” fell a steep 65% in its second frame to an estimated $7.9 million from 3,008 runs for a cume of $40.4 million.

In contrast, Paramount’s summer is going gangbusters. Not only has the studio launched another franchise in “G.I. Joe,” it has reenergized the “Star Trek” franchise and continued successfully mining the Transformers property.

Based around the Hasbro action figures, “G.I. Joe” was co-financed by Spyglass. Lorenzo Di Bonaventura produced the pic, which cost a pricey $175 million.

“This caps off an amazing summer for our marketing and distribution team worldwide,” said Paramount co-chair Rob Moore. “And ‘G.I. Joe’ gives us three of the top six openings of the summer, along with ‘Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen’ and ‘Star Trek.’ “

“G.I. Joe” was far from being a guaranteed success, given the property’s U.S. military theme, which could particularly be a issue for overseas auds.

Par addressed the issue by sticking closer to the comicbook series, which expanded the original team of U.S. military operatives to include operatives from other countries. Studio further stressed this point by adding “Rise of the Cobra” to the movie’s title.

“We wanted audiences to know this was more than just a story about ‘G.I. Joe,’ ” said Paramount prexy of international distribution Andrew Cripps.

Film was set in a number of foreign locales, and featured an international cast including Korean thesp Byung-hun Lee, Brit Sienna Miller, French-Moroccan Said Taghmaoui and South African Arnold Vosloo.

The strategy appears to have worked. “G.I. Joe” did significant business in many Asian territories, including $5.6 million in South Korea and $4.8 million in China. It also shone in Latin America, including a $2.2 million opening in Mexico. Russia was the third top territory at $4.6 million.

Par expected a bumpier ride in Europe, but opening numbers were promising, including $3.3 million in France, $2.9 million in the U.K and $2.7 million in Spain.

Latin American auds are devotees of action. The same is true for Hispanic moviegoers in the U.S., who made up a third of the film’s audience. Two-thirds of the “G.I. Joe” audience were men, while families made up the rest of the aud.

Par made headlines last week when it declined to screen the movie for critics, outside of selected online reviewers. Studio contended that “G.I. Joe” didn’t need reviews, considering how well “Revenge of the Fallen” did despite poor notices.

“G.I. Joe” scored the fourth-best opening of all time for an August release after “The Bourne Ultimatum” ($69.3 million), “Rush Hour 2″ ($67.4 million) and “Signs” ($60.1 million).

In a promising sign for the fledgling franchise, those under the age of 25 gave “G.I. Joe” an A- CinemaScore, while those over gave the pic a B. Overall CinemaScore was B+.

“Julie and Julia,” directed and adapted by Nora Ephron, drew an A CinemaScore. Sony said good word-of-mouth should result in strong legs for the film, which pairs scenes from Julia Child’s life with the story of a young woman who cooks and blogs her way through Child’s recipes.

“Julie and Julia” skewed dramatically older and female, with 64% of the aud over the age of 35 and 67% female.

“Huge kudos to Meryl for such an amazing role, as well as to the ensemble cast. It’s a really terrific start,” said Sony prexy of worldwide distribution Rory Bruer.

There’s no shortage of female-driven product at the domestic B.O.

Sony’s romantic comedy “The Ugly Truth” remained on the top 10 chart in its third sesh, grossing an estimated $7 million from 2,975 runs for a cume of $69.1 million. And next Friday, Warner Bros. opens romantic drama “The Time Traveler’s Wife.”

Among openers at the specialty box office, Overture Films’ “Paper Heart” grossed an estimated $206,000 from 38 locations for a per-location average of $5,421. IDP/Samuel Goldwyn’s Paul Giamatti starrer “Cold Souls” posted a per-location average of $9,050, grossing an estimated $63,350 from seven locations.

Holdover “Thirst,” from Focus Features, grossed an estimated $51,829 from eight runs for a per-location average of $6,479 and cume of $137,631 in its second frame.

Overseas, toons continued to post strong numbers. Disney/Pixar’s “Up,” which is seeing a slow rollout, grossed $16.9 million from 2,442 playdates in 21 territories for an international cume of $108.8 million. Twentieth Century Fox’s “Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs” grossed $14 million from 7,200 runs in 66 markets for a whopping cume of $578 million.

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