‘Watchmen’ on top with $55.7 million

Zack Snyder's superhero pic wins box office

Warner Bros.’ edgy superhero pic “Watchmen” grossed an estimated $55.7 million from 3,611 theaters in its domestic B.O. debut, coming in lower than expected but still scoring the best opening of the year and one of the best showings ever for an R-rated film.

“Watchmen” placed No. 1 in North America as well as tops overseas, where it was the first major day-and-date release of 2009. Film grossed an estimated $27.5 million from 5,097 theaters internationally for a worldwide total of $83.2 million. Paramount is distributing abroad.

Warners had hoped “Watchmen” would match, or even best, the $70.9 million domestic opening of Zack Snyder’s previous film, “300,” which bowed on the same weekend in 2007. Overseas the “Watchmen” debut also failed to match the “300” opening numbers.

“Watchmen” nabbed the third highest March opening of all time after “300” and “Ice Age: The Meltdown” ($68 million). Debut is also the fifth best for an R-rated film.

Overall, the domestic B.O. continued to hum. Weekend was up 11% over the same sesh last year on the strength of “Watchmen” and holdovers.

In only its third frame, Lionsgate’s “Tyler Perry’s Madea Goes to Jail” became Perry’s top-grossing film. Coming in No. 2, the comedy grossed an estimated $8.8 million from 2,151 runs for a cume of $76.5 million. Pic was the previous record-holder for best 2009 opening at $41 million.

After that, an unusually healthy crop of older holdovers (Fox’s “Taken,” Sony’s “Paul Blart: Mall Cop”) beat out more recent releases.

For example, Disney’s “Jonas Brothers: The 3D Concert Experience” fell off a steep 78% in its second frame to place No. 9. Pic grossed an estimated $2.8 million from 1,276 runs for a cume of $16.8 million.

The specialty box office grew relatively quiet post-Oscars. Fox Searchlight’s “Slumdog Millionaire” dipped noticeably for the first time, although it stayed high on the top 10 chart. Placing No. 4, “Slumdog” declined 42% to an estimated $6.9 million from 2,890 runs for a boffo cume of $125.4 million in its 17th sesh. The Weinstein Co.’s “The Reader” reached the $30 million mark as it grossed an estimated $2 million.

There are plenty of hands in the pie when it comes to divvying up the proceeds from “Watchmen.” Warners and partner Legendary Pictures co-financed the project with Paramount, while 20th Century Fox is entitled to a portion of WB’s share under the terms of a recent legal settlement.

Heading into the weekend, opinion was divided as to whether the film — based on the iconic graphic novel by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons — could open to $70 million. Those expressing caution turned out to have been right, so Warners had to manage expectations after the fact.

A substantial roadblock was “Watchmen’s” running time of 2:40. At that length, theaters couldn’t play as many runs of the pic as they did “300,” which ran under two hours.

“It truly makes a huge difference. Every studio wanted to attach their trailer to ‘Watchmen,’ so it ended up being more like three hours. When a movie is 2:40, there’s only one main show a day,” Warners prexy of domestic distribution Dan Fellman said. “We’re pleased with the opening.”

Warners tried to make up for the length issue by taking the movie out in 3,611 theaters, the widest run ever for an R-rated film.

Domestically, “Watchmen” played heavily to fanboys between the ages of 17 and 34. The film earned $4.6 million in Thursday midnight runs, a key indicator of a loyal fanbase.

“Watchmen’s” 124 Imax runs were sold out throughout the weekend. Imax runs accounted for $5.5 million of the film’s $55.7 million opening, for the circuit’s best opening-weekend number after “The Dark Knight’s” $6.3 million.

“This solidifies the fact that we are the place where fanboys like to see their movies,” Imax Filmed Entertainment’s Greg Foster said.

“Watchmen” appeared, however, to have trouble broadening out. Reviews were only so-so beyond followers of the graphic novel.

Another hindrance could be the film’s rating. Considered a “hard” R in the U.S. because of its graphic violence and sex, “Watchmen” received the most restrictive rating possible in territories including the U.K. (Domestically, virtually every big superhero pic has been rated PG-13.)

O’seas performance

“Watchmen” placed No. 1 in a variety of territories, including the U.K., where it grossed a hearty $4.6 million from 420, Australia ($2.3 million from 222), Russia ($2.3 million from 582), Italy ($1.6 million from 266) and Korea ($1.4 million), among others. These numbers all fell short of the opening grosses for “300,” which debuted to $9.2 million in Blighty, for example.

As a rule, foreign auds aren’t as enamored with superhero pics as are their American counterparts.In both France and Spain, “Watchmen” lost the No. 1 spot to Clint Eastwood’s “Gran Torino.” “Gran Torino,” from Warners, opened to $2.7 million in Spain for Eastwood’s biggest bow in that country. “Watchmen” grossed $2 million.

“Gran Torino” earned $4.8 million in its second sesh in France; “Watchmen” grossed $2.5 million. “Torino,” still early in its foreign run, has a foreign cume of $33.4 million.

Fox’s “Marley and Me” topped “Watchmen” in Germany, debuting to $2.9 million vs. $1.9 million for “Watchmen.” “Marley” opened in 16 new markets over the weekend, increasing its foreign cume to $33 million.

In Mexico, “Watchmen” narrowly beat Disney’s “Jonas Brothers,” grossing $754,000. “Jonas Brothers” launched to $497,000. Also from Disney, “Confessions of a Shopaholic” gave “Watchmen” a run for its money in Italy, grossing $1.3 million in its second sesh vs. $1.6 million for “Watchmen.” Foreign gross on “Confessions” is $24.1 million.

Big overseas players continue to include Warners’ “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” which grossed $7.8 million for the sesh for a foreign cume of $189.2 million. Domestic gross is $126.1 million for a worldwide total of $315.3 million, ahead of predictions.

“Bolt” also remains a winner for Disney overseas, grossing $4.2 million for the weekend in 26 territories for a cume of $171.6 million. Pic has yet to open in Japan. “Bolt,” which grossed $114 in its domestic run, sports a worldwide cume of $285.6 million.

Tom Cruise starrer “Valkyrie” neared the $100 million mark internationally, where Fox is mostly distributing. The pic grossed $4 million for a foreign cume of $99.2 million. Worldwide cume is $181.9 million.

Nearing the end of its foreign run, “Australia” hit $154 million at the international B.O. Domestic cume is $49.5 million; worldwide, it’s $203.5 million.

Specialty pic “Milk” grossed $2.2 million from 700 locations in 25 territories for Universal, led by a $1.4 million French launch. Film’s foreign cume is $13.7 million. Domestic cume is $31.2 million; worldwide, $44.9 million.

Specialty side

At the specialty box office on the domestic side, the Metropolitan Opera’s live theatrical broadcast of “Madame Butterfly” on Saturday grossed an estimated $2.4 million from 650 screens in North America and $1 million from 200 locations overseas. That’s the best showing ever for the Met’s high-def theatrical program.

Among new openers, Sony Pictures Classics’ “12” grossed $12,976 from five screens for a location average of $2,595 and a cume of $14,134 (pic opened Wednesday). ThinkFilms’ “Phoebe in Wonderland” posted a per-screen average of $2,391 as it grossed $26,111 from 11 locations.

The best per-screen average of the weekend belonged to “Watchmen” at $15,413.

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