Holdover threesome tops Stateside newcomers

Out with the old … well, not really.

A quartet of wide releases, led by “50/50″ and “Courageous,” were no match for a trio of sturdy holdovers, as Warner Bros.’ “Dolphin Tale” surged in its second week to claim the domestic B.O.’s top spot with an estimated $14.2 million. Overseas, Sony’s “The Smurfs” likely retained its eighth-straight No. 1 perch, dropping just 15% for a weekend take of $10.7 million and a cume of $380.8 million.

“The Smurfs” now stands as 2011’s sixth-highest grossing pic internationally, behind “Fast Five”; because of a $6.6 million opening in Japan, the latter crossed the $400 million mark this weekend.

Dolphin Tale,” which fell just 26% domestically, knocked the previous B.O. champ, “The Lion King” in 3D, from its two-week reign down to the No. 3 spot, leaving Sony’s “Moneyball” holding on to second place. The 3D “Lion King,” with an astonishing Stateside cume of $79.7 million, grossed an estimated $11.1 million in its third frame; “Moneyball” took in $12.5 million.

Meanwhile, Sony’s “Courageous” — an under-the-radar contender this weekend — overperformed with an estimated $8.8 million, thanks in large part to a strong foothold in the faith-based community. Pic scored an overall A+ CinemaScore rating.

“Based on (the film’s) pre-sales, we knew we had something going into the weekend,” said Sony distrib topper Rory Bruer, referring to the pic’s $2 million in advanced ticket sales. “Plus, it’s the type of film that’s going to work really well with its core audience.”

“Courageous,” which wasn’t expected to surpass $6 million, came in just slightly under weekend estimates for Summit’s cancer comedy “50/50,” grossing a projected $8.9 million. The pair could flip-flop when actuals are released today, since some studio estimates have “Courageous” ahead of “50/50.”

Bowing softly this weekend, Morgan Creek’s “Dream House,” which is being distribbed by Universal, came in at No. 6 with an estimated $8.2 million, while 20th Century Fox’s laffer “What’s Your Number?” grossed a sluggish $5.6 million. (“Dream House” was expected to hit a double-digit opening; low-end projections for “What’s Your Number?” were $6 million.)

The bar was lowered from last weekend, but a broad swath of pics doing mostly OK biz kept overall totals roughly 5% ahead of the same frame last year.

In limited release, Sony Pictures Classics’ “Take Shelter” started out strong, averaging $18,724 from three screens in New York and L.A. for a three-day total of $56, 171.

Gay-themed U.K. drama “Weekend,” from Sundance Selects, had a solid expansion, broadening to six engagements for a per-screen average of $8,000 and an estimated weekend take of $91,000. By comparison, Relativity Media’s “Machine Gun Preacher” grossed $82,000 from an expanded 33 locations, averaging just $2,485 per screen.

Kenneth Lonergan’s long-delayed “Margaret” also struggled to gain traction. Pic, from Fox Searchlight, averaged a quiet $3,748 from two locations but will expand to 12 more U.S. markets on Oct. 7.

B.O.’s faith base

Normally an underserved market, the faith-based demo was treated to both “Dolphin Tale” and “Courageous.”

Last weekend, Warners said much of the opening for “Dolphin Tale” came from that sector, based on the pic’s inspirational storyline. But the film likely did better this weekend than last with family auds, since “The Lion King,” marketed as a two-week only engagement, dropped 50% in its third frame.

Jeff Goldstein, Warner exec VP-general sales manager, said 3D screenings of “Dolphin Tale” continued to contribute half of the pic’s weekend gross.

Sony spent considerable effort marketing “Courageous” to church groups, faith leaders and men’s groups (pic centers on five fathers in law enforcement).

Budgeted at a reported $2 million and with a limited P&A spend, “Courageous” was produced by moviemaking ministry Sherwood Pictures, the same shingle behind “Fireproof.” That pic went on to become the highest-grossing independent release of 2008, with $33.5 million — nearly five times its opening at $6.8 million. Sony, which acquired “Courageous” for TriStar Pictures, said the film could achieve a multiple similar to that of “Fireproof.”

“If Sherwood Pictures is anything, it’s real people making movies for real people, about problems and hopes common to us all,” said Michael Catt, Sherwood Church senior pastor and the pic’s exec producer.

Femme overlap

“Courageous” earned 53% of its debut perf from women, with 77% of its opening demo over 25.

Both “50/50″ and “Dream House” also had the majority of their opening come from women (54%), and auds over 25 contributed more than 60% of the total for each. It’s not too surprising that “Dream House” skewed female — the horror genre typically does — though “50/50″ was expected to play more broadly, based on general audience interest prior to the weekend.

Summit prexy of domestic distribution Richie Fay pointed to the film’s 24% Friday-Saturday uptick as hopeful news for strong playability.

The weekend’s fourth wide release, “What’s Your Number?,” was no exception to the weekend’s demographic tendencies: Pic earned 63% of its opening from females and from those over 25. “What’s Your Number?” and “Dream House” both scored B CinemaScore ratings, while “50/50″ fared better with an A-.

That all four new entries played best with women over 25 suggests they cannibalized each other, leaving room for the (somewhat) more diverse holdovers to play. “Dolphin” and “Lion King” catered to families; “Moneyball,” mostly to men.

Newbies will look to branch out demographically as they enter holdover mode.

In terms of profitability, “50/50,” budgeted at around $8 million, has an easier road ahead, while “What’s Your Number?” cost more than twice that at $20 million (still relatively modest and fully financed by New Regency). “Dream House” carries an estimated pricetag in the low-$50 millions.

A Freestyle pair

Among the weekend’s other notable limited entries, Freestyle Releasing had two titles, “Munger Road” and “Sarah Palin: You Betcha!” The former scored a per-screen average of $38,855 from one location in Chicago area, where the scarer takes place. The Palin docu, meanwhile, stalled with just $1,229 from six playdates in New York and L.A.

Freestyle plans to expand “Munger Road” next weekend into six additional U.S. markets. The distrib hasn’t announced its plans for “You Betcha.”

Filed Under:

Follow @Variety on Twitter for breaking news, reviews and more