Action comedy starts strong with $40.5 mil

Sony’s “The Green Hornet” made a solid comeback after initial skepticism from fanboys, topping the Martin Luther King Jr. weekend with a projected $34 million through Sunday. The studio is estimating $40.5 million from 3,584 locations over the long holiday sesh.

Though “Green Hornet” easily beat Universal’s “The Dilemma,” which bowed with $17.4 million at 2,390 for three days and a four-day take of $20.7 million, the holiday frame was down a sizable 28% from last year. That weekend, however, benefited from B.O. anomaly “Avatar,” as well as three other pics that earned north of $15 million.

While most studios reported four-day estimates on Sunday, some won’t have those figures until today.

Outperforming more commercial fare, specialty titles like “The King’s Speech” and “Black Swan” continue to gain ground with aggressive Stateside expansions.

The Weinstein Co. expanded “The King’s Speech” to 1,543 locations, up from 758 last weekend, lifting the pic to No. 4 with three-day estimates at $9.1 million, while “Black Swan,” which Fox Searchlight broadened to 2,328 locations, took an estimated $8.1 million for the three days. “Black Swan” is now Searchlight’s third-highest domestic grosser, with $73 million, behind “Juno” and “Slumdog Millionaire.” Stateside cume for “The King’s Speech” is $44.6 million.

“The King’s Speech” also made giant strides in the U.K., up 35% over its debut there last weekend. With an estimated cume of $14 million through today, the film already has outperformed “The Queen” in its entire U.K. run.

Elsewhere on the international front, “Green Hornet” bowed day and date in 35 markets, including Blighty, where it was No. 2 with $3.2 million. Pic’s top market was Germany, which contributed $4.5 million, outstripping both “Iron Man” debuts. Total overseas take for “Green Hornet” reached $16.1 million on 2,981 screens.

Beginning in mid-December, Sony touted increasing interest from moviegoers for the Seth Rogen action comedy, a relief after Comic-Con attendees responded cynically to Rogen’s character.

Budgeted at an estimated $110 million, “Green Hornet” saw the holiday’s second-highest four-day opening, following “Cloverfield” with $46.1 million in 2008. The film’s three-day take is the third-highest January bow.

Sony reported that 69% of “Green Hornet’s” debut came from 2,704 3D runs, which repped 75% of the total location count. Imax contributed $2.6 million for three days from 173 domestic Imax digital-only screens, with a per-screen average of $15,000.

According to Sony, “Hornet” scored an even split between auds over and under 25, with 61% of its weekend gross from male auds. Pic’s popularity with adult moviegoers showed in the Friday-Saturday jump of 13%. Typically, fanboy-driven pics drop on Saturday as teenage auds drive opening-day grosses, while adults usually wait until Saturday to visit the movie theater.

“Hornet,” from helmer Michel Gondry, scored an overall B+ CinemaScore rating but ranked better with auds under 25 as they gave the pic an A-.

“I think this is a movie that people will continue to discover,” said Sony distrib exec Rory Bruer. “It’s incredibly fresh and cool and played exceptionally well to its key demographic.”

U’s “The Dilemma” faced a tougher battle with its target demo, attracting mostly adult auds (58% were over 30) who have plenty to choose from at the multiplexes, and who typically shy away from opening weekend. Pic, however, managed to beat studio expectations, with U prexy of domestic distribution Nikki Rocco saying, “To be able to do what we did is quite an accomplishment.”

“This is an adult relationship movie, and these pictures don’t play like others films do,” Rocco added. “They take time to get out.”

U launched “Dilemma” in four overseas territories, led by Australia and New Zealand. Oz contributed $1.4 million of the pic’s total $1.8 million overseas take, even with the market off 14% because of floods in Queensland and Victoria.

“Dilemma” faced Paramount’s “True Grit” in its fourth frame, which dropped a scant 23% for an estimated three-day gross of $11.2 million. “True Grit,” which started playing best to adult auds and since has broadened to teens, hit $126.4 million through Sunday. Estimated four-day cume is $13.3 million.

Meanwhile, Relativity Media’s “Season of the Witch” had a tough time in its soph sesh, dropping 58%, with $4.5 million for three days and four-day totals of $5.1 million. Projected cume through today is $18.6 million.

Freestyle Releasing’s Wood Harris-Zoe Saldana starrer “The Heart Specialist,” targeting mainly African-American filmgoers, posted a modest per-screen average of $1,279 at 422 locations. Distrib reps attributed ice storms in the South and East coasts as the primary reason for the pic’s soft bow.

Sony Pictures Classics’ “Barney’s Version,” starring Paul Giamatti, did better with $17,916 per screen, grossing $71,662 at four engagements.

TWC’s “Blue Valentine” and Lionsgate’s “Rabbit Hole” both added considerable locations this weekend. “Blue,” which expanded to 230 with $1.4 million, has cumed $2.8 million, while “Rabbit Hole” has failed to crack $1 million after grossing an estimated $283,500 from 100 playdates.

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