Series' first 3D offering estimates north of $27 mil

(Article updated at 4:45 p.m.)

As the lone wide release this weekend, Sony’s first 3D title of the year, Screen Gems pic “Resident Evil: Afterlife,” easily nabbed the domestic B.O.’s top spot with an estimated $27.7 million at 3,203 North American locations.

“Afterlife” screened at 2,203 3D locations, of which 141 were Imax digital runs. The large-screen exhib reported its weekend share at $2.6 million domestically for a wicked per-screen average of $19,000.

“Takers,” also from Screen Gems with Sony distribbing, claimed the No. 2 spot in its third frame with an estimated take of $6.1 million at 2,191, boosting U.S. totals to $48.1 million.

One-two punch from Screen Gems marks the first time the company

has occupied the top two spots at the weekend domestic box office.

“Takers,” slipping just 44%, bested a trio of soph-sesh entries led by Focus Features’ George Clooney thriller “The American,” which scored $5.9 million, down 55%, from 2,833. Stateside cume for the adult-driven pic is $28.3 million.

Matching its domestic dominance, “Afterlife” bowed day and date in some 35 international markets, posting an impressive $46.2 million, which more than doubled the comparable opening of its predecessor “Resident Evil: Extinction.”

Top market was Japan, where “Afterlife” drew a whopping estimated $15.5 million, followed by Russia, where the movie grossed $9.5 million. Pic’s overseas bow stands as one of the more aggressive day-and-date rollouts since the start of the summer B.O. sesh.

While “Afterlife” was the only new entry to go wide in the U.S., a bevy of specialty pics entered the market in limited release, including helmer-author Galt Niederhoffer’s lit adaptation “The Romantics” from Four of a Kind Prods. Pic, toplining Katie Holmes, Anna Paquin and Josh Duhamel, launched at one location each in New York and L.A., grossing $44,400 for a stellar per-screen average of $22,200.

Overall, the frame was down approximately 16% vs. the comparable frame last year, which saw two wide releases, Lionsgate’s Tyler Perry-helmed “I Can Do Bad All by Myself” and Focus’ toon “9.”

Sony projected “Afterlife” to debut in the mid-20s, closer to the franchise’s previous two installments: “Extinction” ($23.7 million) and “Apocalypse” ($23.0 million). But thanks to higher 3D ticket prices, coupled with the Imax presentation, “Afterlife” now stands as the series’ top opener. The first “Resident Evil” launched with $17.7 million domestically in 2002.

Studio reps said that while 3D shares won’t be available until today, 3D contributed the majority of the pic’s weekend take, especially given that 3D runs made up 73% of the pic’s total location count. “Afterlife” marks the first 3D release for Sony since last year’s toon “Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs.”

Rory Bruer, prexy of worldwide distribution for Sony, attributed the studio’s cautious approach to 3D in part to auds’ increased scrutiny of 3D vs. other technical aspects of 2D pics. “We’re very cognizant of what 3D is going to look like,” Bruer said. “We’re a studio that is very invested in 3D, and we want to pick vehicles that best showcase the format.”

Bruer credited Screen Gems execs Clint Culpepper and Loren Schwartz as driving forces behind making “Afterlife” a 3D event. “Afterlife” and “Takers” are the first pics to bow since Schwartz took on his new role as exec VP of marketing for Screen Gems. Company could continue its busy run into next week, when laffer “Easy A” opens wide domestically.

“Afterlife” marks Imax’s 20th consecutive title to debut in the No. 1 spot globally. Imax prexy-chairman Greg Foster described “Afterlife” as an ideal candidate for 3D and the Imax treatment, saying, “This movie really shows that fanboys seek us out.”

Directed and co-scribed by Paul W.S. Anderson, “Afterlife” toplines franchise mainstay Milla Jovovich, with thesp Ali Larter reprising her role that originated in “Extinction.” Pic drew primarily male auds, at 58%, while moviegoers 25 and under contributed 49%.

Among the frame’s top holdovers, 20th Century Fox’s guy-driven “Machete,” down 63% in its second outing, landed in the No. 4 spot with an estimated weekend gross of $4.2 million at 2,678 locations.

Warner Bros.’ Drew Barrymore -Justin Long starrer “Going the Distance,” from New Line, followed in fifth place, slipping 44% in its soph sesh for an estimated $3.8 million at 3,030.

Domestic totals for “Machete” reached $20.8 million, while “Going the Distance” has cumed $14 million domestically.

Meanwhile, Sony added to its load of top 10 performers, with “The Other Guys” and “Eat Pray Love” dropping just 32% and 40%, respectively. In its sixth frame, “The Other Guys” tallied $3.6 million, totaling a sizable $112.7 million. “Eat Pray Love” grossed an estimated $2.9 million in a virtual tie with Warner’s “Inception” ($3 million). “Eat Pray Love” has cumed $74.6 million; “Inception,” $282.4 million.

Also placing among the weekend’s holdovers were Lionsgate’s “The Last Exorcism” and “The Expendables.” The former ranked No. 7 with $3.5 million, down 53% in its third outing, while “The Expendables” followed closely, earning $3.3 million for a drop of 51% in its fifth week of domestic play time.

Both pics continue to hold well in repeat frames and serve as welcome surprises for Lionsgate, with “Exorcism” cuming $38.2 million and totals for “Expendables” at $98.5 million.

Notable specialty pics included IFC’s French-lingo pic “Heartbreaker,” which tallied an estimated $54,300 from three locations. “Heartbreaker” played to sold-out screenings in both New York and L.A., according to IFC, with a tres bien per-screen average of $18,100.

Magnolia’s Casey Affleck-directed quasi-docu “I’m Still Here,” with Joaquin Phoenix, bowed on 19 screens, with an estimated $104,500. Docu averaged $5,500 per screen. Samuel Goldwyn saw less-than-stellar results with its sports-themed drama “Legendary,” which launched at an aggressive 177 locations with $135,210, averaging just $764 per screen.

Several titles debuted victorious this weekend in territories where “Afterlife” has yet to bow, including Disney’s “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice,” which rolled out in China with a chart-topping perf of $3.4 million on 485 screens.

Fox’s parody “Vampires Suck” made its way to Germany where it posted $3.2 million on 503, while “Despicable Me,” from Universal, topped the Australian box office with an estimated $4.5 million on 264 dates.

Overseas totals for “Apprentice” now stand at $127.6 million, with “Vampires” and “Despicable” cuming $13.1 million and $81.5 million, respectively. Those pics will continue to expand overseas throughout the next few months, hoping to attract younger auds during fall holidays.

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