'Love,' 'Duplicity' fall short of expectations

Summit Entertainment’s Nicolas Cage disaster actioner “Knowing” easily won the weekend’s domestic box office race with $24.8 million, while Universal’s Julia Roberts-Clive Owen starrer “Duplicity” saw a soft launch domestically and overseas.

Paramount/DreamWorks’ Paul Rudd-Jason Segel buddy comedy “I Love You, Man” came in on the lower end of expectations in its domestic debut, but pic is primed to take advantage of rolling spring break vacations over the next month. The John Hamburg-directed movie placed No. 2 in its bow, grossing an estimated $18 million from 2,711 playdates, according to Rentrak.

Placing No. 3 at the North American B.O., “Duplicity” grossed an estimated $14.4 million from 2,574. Overseas, the romantic caper grossed an estimated $4.2 million from 998 playdates in 11 territories, putting it at No. 7 or 8, depending on the official overseas tally. The film didn’t win in any of its markets.

Domestic B.O. was down from last year for the second weekend in a row, dipping 5% year on year. But revenues and admissions continue to run ahead of 2008 year to date.

The international box office also slowed, attributed to unseasonably warm weather in parts of Europe. Twentieth Century Fox’s “Marley and Me” and Warner Bros.’ “Gran Torino” tied for No. 1 at $8.8 million each.

Notable newcomer was 3-D title “Monsters vs. Aliens,” which Paramount and DreamWorks Animation bowed in Russia and Ukraine a week ahead of the pic’s domestic debut. “Monsters” grossed an estimated $6.9 million from 632 locations; 32% of that came from 3-D theaters and Imax locations, repping a per screen average of $17,000. Russian launch was the fourth-highest ever for an animated title.

On the domestic side, Disney’s family adventure “Race to Witch Mountain” dropped 47% in its second sesh to an estimated $13 million from 3,187 runs to place No. 4. Cume is $44.7 million in its first 10 days.

Warner Bros.’ “Watchmen” continued to tumble, declining 62% in its third weekend to $6.7 million domestically for a cume of $98.1 million. Overseas, the film grossed another $7 million for the weekend for a foreign cume of $60.1 million and worldwide total of $158.2 million. WB producing and financing partner Legendary Pictures put up half of the movie’s $150 million production budget. Paramount, which has foreign rights, and Warners each have a 25% stake.

While “Watchmen” could have trouble reaching $200 million worldwide, three films crossed that threshold over the past few days: “Gran Torino,” “Marley and Me” and sleeper hit “Taken.”

“Knowing” hasn’t yet bowed overseas. Heading into the weekend, many predicted that it would win the domestic race, based on tracking. Pic’s successful opening was attributed to the fact that it appealed equally to men and women. Audience did skew older, with 63% over age 25.

“I think the marketing campaign was excellent. There’s everything to be said for the film itself, and certainly, Nic Cage can be on your side when you’re making a movie,” Summit prexy of distribution Richie Fay said.

“Knowing” opening is Summit’s most successful after that of “Twilight.” For Cage, it’s the actor’s sixth best opening.

Star power and good reviews seemed to do little to whip up interest for “Duplicity” beyond older females and some men. Of the audience, 78% were over age 30. Women made up 61% of the audience.

“Duplicity” is Tony Gilroy’s second directorial outing, after “Michael Clayton.”

Film also marks Roberts’ first starring role on the bigscreen since “Mona Lisa Smile” in 2003. That film debuted to $11.2 million on its way to cuming $63.9 million domestically. Otherwise, Roberts has been featured in ensemble pics.

For much of the 1990s and into the early 2000s, Roberts was arguably the biggest female star, turning out a string of hits from “Runaway Bride” to “Erin Brockovich.” She’s also been a huge star overseas. “Mona Lisa” grossed $77 million abroad, well ahead of its domestic haul.

But early international results for “Duplicity” aren’t good news for Roberts or Universal.

In the U.K., “Duplicity” came in No. 3 behind “Marley and Me” and Sony’s “Paul Blart: Mall Cop” despite Roberts’ name on the marquee along with that of British star Owen. In many other territories, “Duplicity” finished third or fourth.

Still, femme-driven films can enjoy stronger legs than male-driven titles, so the bigger test for “Duplicity” will come in subsequent weekends.

Smaller comedies like “I Love You, Man” also can see interest build more slowly. Paramount insiders had thought the R-rated pic would gross closer to $20 million in its opening. But basketball’s March Madness may have eaten into the pic’s aud.

The good news for Paramount and DreamWorks is that word of mouth should be good for “I Love You, Man,” and the pic skewed young. Of the audience, 45% were under age 25.

“We are confident it will have a great run through spring break,” Paramount co-chair Rob Moore said.

“I Love You, Man” opened ahead of Segel topliner “Forgetting Sarah Marshall,” which debuted to $17.7 million in April 2008 on its way to grossing $63.2 million domestically. Rudd’s last film, “Role Models,” opened to $19.2 million last fall on its way to grossing $67.3 million.

Paramount is waiting until next month to roll out “I Love You, Man” overseas.

Filling out the international box office roster for the weekend, strong performers also included Fox Intl.’s “Valkyrie,” Disney’s “Confessions of a Shopaholic” and Sony’s “Paul Blart: Mall Cop.” Numbers weren’t available Sunday for two other top pics, “Slumdog Millionaire” and “The Reader.”

Specialty openers domestically included Truly Indie’s “Valentino: The Last Emperor,” which scored the highest per-screen average of the sesh. Biopic grossed an estimated $20,329 from one theater in Gotham.

Focus Features’ “Sin nombre” grossed an estimated $77,403 from six locations for a strong per-location average of $12,900.

Successfully expanding over the weekend was Overture’s “Sunshine Cleaning.” Film grossed an estimated $705,161 from 64 locations for a per- location average of $11,018.

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