Heist pic beats trio of new releases with $23.8 mil

(Article updated at 4:30 p.m. PT.)

Ben Affleck’s “The Town,” a Warner Bros.-Legendary Pictures co-production, muscled its way to the top of the domestic box office this weekend, with an estimated $23.8 million from 2,861 locations.

The pic beat a trio of other wide

releases, led by Sony/Screen Gems’ “Easy A,” which debuted at No. 2 earning an estimated $18.2 million at 2,856. Universal’s horror-thriller “Devil” followed in third with $12.6 million, while Lionsgate’s 3D toon “Alpha and Omega” topped out with an estimated $9.2 million during its opening frame.

The weekend saw a hearty mix of commercial and specialty pics, appealing to a broad swath of moviegoers.

Fox Searchlight’s lit adaptation “Never Let Me Go” posted strong domestic figures at four locations in New York and L.A., averaging $30,208 per screen — the highest for the weekend. Distrib launched “Never Let Me Go” Wednesday to distance it from a crowded frame, totaling a solid five-day cume of $165,331.

Added to the strong bow for “Easy A,” holdovers “Resident Evil: Afterlife” and “Takers” also held steady, giving Sony’s Screen Gems a boffo weekend. Both Screen Gems productions, “Afterlife” scored an estimated $10.1 million in its soph sesh, down a steep 62%, while “Takers” estimated an additional $3 million in its fourth frame, slipping a more modest 47%. Domestic totals for “Afterlife” stand at $44 million; “Takers” has cumed to date $52.3 million.

“Afterlife” continued to dominate the overseas box office, posting $30.2 million from 48 markets, of which the film ranked No. 1 in 42, including debut territories Mexico, South Korea and Brazil. Pic’s international cume reached a standout $103.2 million.

Meanwhile, the weekend’s domestic openers fell short of the top spot in their overseas debuts.

Warner launched “The Town” in France, where it placed second, with an estimated $2.2 million on 293 screens, while “Easy A” bowed in Australia, with $1.1 million on 170, landing in Oz’s No. 5 spot. Sony’s laffer could gain steam there, however, given the pic’s core young femmes are on school holidays.

“Devil” rolled out in seven territories, including the U.K., where it posted an estimated $1.3 million to claim the No. 2 spot behind Sony’s “The Other Guys,” with $3.1 million. U estimated “Devil’s” total weekend take at $2.3 million internationally.

Domestic champ “The Town” played slightly better with male auds (55%), and those aged 25 and over (75%). Warner said positive word of mouth helped boost appeal among adults. “With a film like this, your audience is going to be limited, but you also have a strong base,” said Warner prexy of domestic distribution Dan Fellman, referring to the pic’s R rating.

“Town” now stands as Warner’s highest-grossing September opening, outpacing “Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride,” which earned $19.1 million during its first weekend of wide release in 2005.

Warner compared the opening for “Town” to Martin Scorsese’s “The Departed,” which launched in October 2006 with $26.8 million. The pic went on to gross $132.4 domestically thanks to positive word of mouth and a successful awards push.

“Town” has drawn hearty support from critics after screening last week at the Toronto Film Festival, which could boost support among its core adult demo. Pic also scored an overall B+ CinemaScore rating.

“Based on the exit polls and word of mouth, I think we’re well positioned to play strong into the fall,” Fellman added.

Sony said it has similar high hopes for Emma Stone starrer “Easy A,” which received an A- CinemaScore rating this weekend. Rory Bruer, prexy of worldwide distribution for Sony, pointed to the film’s strong perf on Saturday as evidence of a possible broadened base beyond core young femmes.

Typically, female-driven pics see a frontloaded weekend perf on Friday, followed by a slight downturn the next day. “Easy A,” however, gained 5% on Saturday, thanks to a slight majority of moviegoers aged 18 and over (51%) and considerable male attendance (33%).

Bruer credited Stone as the driving force behind the film’s success so far, which has more than doubled the $8 million estimated budget.

“To have such an incredible cast and an amazing director (Will Gluck), for such a reasonable budget, makes this a really good start for the film,” Bruer said.

Universal decided to launch “Devil” at fewer U.S. locations than either “Town” or “Easy A,” with hopes of maximizing returns in smaller urban areas.

“We specifically targeted markets and theaters that have traditionally performed better for this genre,” said U prexy of domestic distribution Nikki Rocco. “But we didn’t want to oversaturate smaller markets.”

Launching at 2,809 locations, “Devil” scored a C+ rating and played best among both men and women aged 25 and under, with 52%.

“Devil” is the first offering in producer M. Night Shyamalan’s “Night Chronicles” series, which tells stories imagined by Shyamalan, who mentors emerging scripters/helmers for the pics. U acquired worldwide rights to “Devil” from MRC for $27 million, with Relativity Media as a partner.

Pic, about a group of strangers trapped in an elevator, toplines Chris Messina and is directed by John Erick Dowdle, from a script by Brian Nelson.

Appealing to families and younger auds, Lionsgate’s 3D toon “Alpha and Omega” fell in line with studio expectations, debuting at 2,625 locations, of which 1,625 were 3D-equipped. Pic’s 3D format contributed 70% of the opening take, down from last weekend’s 3D entry “Resident Evil: Afterlife,” which earned 84% from 3D.

Lionsgate distrib topper David Sptiz said that while “Alpha” saw less from 3D than Sony’s “Afterlife,” the toon still should benefit as the frame’s freshest animated feature to enter the market since “Despicable Me.” “We knew going in that we weren’t going to get every 3D screen,” Spitz said. “But this still is going to be a profitable film for us.”

Indie flux

Along with Fox Searchlight’s “Never Let Me Go,” several specialty titles entered the market in limited release, including “Catfish,” from Rogue, which debuted with $255,000 at 12 U.S. locations for a respectable per-screen average of $21,250. Pic expands to some 40 locations next weekend in 19 additional markets.

Helmer-thesp Philip Seymour Hoffman’s “Jack Goes Boating,” from Overture, got off to a disappointing start this weekend, bowing at four locations in New York and L.A. for a per-screen average of just $7,500. Pic grossed $30,000, with the Jewish holiday possibly impacting early weekend grosses in the two cities. Overture said. “Jack” will roll out in nine more markets next weekend.

Holdover highlights

Lionsgate’s profitable holdover title “The Expendables” reached the $100 million mark this weekend, matched only by the company’s “Fahrenheit 9/11,” which cumed $119.1 million in 2004. “Expendables” posted an additional estimated $1.4 million in its sixth frame. Summit’s “Eclipse” also reached notable heights this weekend. Pic crossed $300 million domestically and stands as the highest domestic grosser in the “Twilight” series.

Also among the weekend’s top repeat players, Warner’s “Inception” held best, dropping just 28% in its 10th frame, for an estimated take of $2.8 million. With a boffo Stateside cume of $285.2 million, “Inception” joins “How to Train Your Dragon” as only the second 2010 release to stay in the top 10 for 10 straight weeks.

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