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‘Rite’ makes might at weekend B.O.

Exorcism pic scares up $15 mil from 2,985 locations

Thanks to better weather, an absence of football and a glut of Oscar contenders (four best pic nominees landed in the top 10), the weekend’s domestic box office was quite a bit livelier than earlier outings this month.

Overall, the sesh was down just 16% vs. last year’s “Avatar”-enhanced frame; previous weekends this January have been off as much as 30%.

New Line’s Anthony Hopkins scarer “The Rite,” from Warner Bros., landed on top in its debut weekend, with an estimated $15 million from 2,985 locations; more impressive was the Weinstein Co.’s most-nommed Oscar candidate “The King’s Speech,” which grew significantly in its 10th frame, up 41% from last weekend.

The frame’s other wide release, CBS Films’ “The Mechanic,” exceeded pre-weekend expectations with $11.5 million — a somewhat modest estimate since other studios are predicting higher — but the film launched slightly below, if not neck-and-neck, with top holdovers “No Strings Attached” and “The Green Hornet,” which continued to reign overseas with $15.7 million for a foreign cume of $61 million.

Paramount’s “No Strings Attached” earned $13.7 million in its soph sesh, off just 31%, for a cume of $39.7 million, while Sony’s “Green Hornet” dropped 35% in its third frame with an estimated $11.5 million for the weekend, totaling $78.8 million.

Some of the best holdover perfs, however, came from Oscar-nommed pics in their first post-nomination weekend.

TWC’s “Speech,” which leads the nominee pack with 12 bids, added an estimated $11.1 million to an already stellar cume for the period pic, now totaling $72.2 million. Weinstein’s “Blue Valentine,” which drew a lead actress nom for Michelle Williams, posted $1.7 million from 415 locations, up from 242 last weekend.

Fox Searchlight also saw profitable bumps from numerous Oscar noms as “Black Swan” tallied $5.1 million from 2,315 and “127 Hours,” with an estimated $2.1 million from 916, expanded from just 69 engagements last weekend. Stateside totals for “Black Swan” reached $90.7 million, while “127 Hours” has cumed $13.4 million; both films received best pic nominations.

In limited release, Roadside Attractions’ twice-nommed “Biutiful,” vying for foreign-lingo and lead actor (Javier Bardem) trophies, started strong with an estimated $460,916 at 50 locations. Launch is an aggressive one for a foreign-language film, resulting in a per-screen average of $8,084.

Roadside first released “Biutiful” for an awards-qualifying run in New York and L.A. on Dec. 29, cuming $623,226. Distrib plans to add nearly 150 screens next weekend.

Going up against the sesh’s wide releases and awards fodder was Lionsgate’s “From Prada to Nada,” the first pic from Hispanic-targeted label Pantelion. As expected, the film saw overwhelming response from Latino women (71%), estimating $1.1 million from 256 playdates.

Snowy conditions Friday on the East Coast negatively affected “The Rite,” “especially for a (genre) picture that should show a Friday night pop,” said Warners distribution exec Dan Fellman. But he added that improved weather on Saturday and Sunday should help make up for Friday’s blizzards; pic saw an unusually high increase from Friday to Saturday, up 14%.

“The Rite,” Warner’s first 2011 release, played less like a horror film and more like a suspense-thriller, since it resonated more with auds over 25 (horror films typically skew younger) and saw an even split between men and women.

That’s not too surprising, however, considering Warners didn’t necessarily market the film like a horror pic. Studio took much effort in highlighting the film’s factual origins instead of sensationalizing its exorcist theme. Pic is based on the real-life story of an American priest, played by Colin O’Donoghue, who studies at an exorcism school in Italy.

A similar fact-based marketing strategy worked well for Lionsgate last year with its micro-budgeted “The Last Exorcism,” which grossed $41 million domestically.

“We knew that younger women were interested in ‘No Strings Attached,'” Fellman said. “So we decided to go for an older audience.”

CBS Films’ “The Mechanic” saw similar adult traffic, with 64% of its aud over 25. Action pic skewed slightly male (61%), though some femmes likely turned out because of star Jason Statham. Caucasian auds made up 47% of attendance, followed by Latinos as the film’s next largest demo at 27%.

“The Mechanic” bow is a nice start for CBS Films this year. The distrib paid a reported $5 million for “The Mechanic” and will follow it with fairy tale reimagining “Beastly” in March.

CBS Films distrib topper Steven Friedlander noted that “The Mechanic,” which also bowed day and date in Russia with $4.2 million, has a clear U.S. playing field among similarly targeted films over the next few weeks that should bode well for it in repeat frames. “I’m looking forward to some good holdovers and solid numbers,” he added.

Among the weekend’s best-performing repeat players, Par touted its Oscar-nommed pair “True Grit” and “The Fighter.” “True Grit,” with an estimated $7.6 million, showed hearty resilience, and a nice awards boost, as it jumped 4% over last weekend, while “The Fighter” dropped just 3% for a weekend take of $4.1 million. “True Grit” has cumed $148.4 million; “The Fighter,” $78.4 million.

Sony Pictures Classics’ Oscar-nommed documentary “Inside Job” saw less of a bump, with $122,795, averaging a mere $491 from 250 locations, up from 23. SPC mounted an unusually aggressive expansion for the doc this weekend, hoping to capitalize on a solid perf so far with nearly $4 million.

Several Oscar hopefuls also are gaining ground overseas, including “Black Swan” and “True Grit,” which kickstarted its international run this weekend in Australia with $2.3 million.

Currently, “Black Swan” is in 16 overseas territories, of which only three are major markets (Germany, Australia and the U.K.). The film posted $11.4 million this weekend, bringing its international cume to $29.1 million.

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