Sony scarer tops 'Sanctum' in first weekend

Although men were more scarce than usual at the domestic B.O. over Super Bowl weekend, Sony/Screen Gems’ femme thriller “The Roommate” saw a better-than-expected launch, with young women lifting weekend estimates to a chart-topping $15.6 million at 2,534 locations.

With studios assuming that male moviegoers will focus on the big game, Hollywood traditionally targets women during the Super Bowl frame.

Universal’s 3D underwater thriller “Sanctum” also played best to women, with an estimated $9.2 million at 2,787 locations for the weekend. However, a strong contingent of males, with 47%, suggests the film might have done better during a less-distracting weekend for men.

“Sanctum” opened day and date via Universal in Australia and the U.K. with an estimated $3.1 million on 591 screens, including 16 Imax runs. Imax contributed an overall 17% of the film’s domestic bow from 178 digital 3D Imax screens.

Among the frame’s better-performing Stateside holdovers, Para-mount’s “No Strings Attached” dropped just 37% to hit No. 3 in its third weekend, grossing an estimated $8.4 million. Cume stands at $51.8 million through Sunday.

The Weinstein Co.’s B.O. gem “The King’s Speech” fell a mere 25% this weekend — its 11th frame — with an estimated take of $8.3 million, boosting the film’s Stateside totals to north of $84 million.

Sony Pictures Classics aggressively expanded Mike Leigh’s Oscar-nommed “Another Year” to 236 locations, up from 91 the previous weekend, for an estimated $501,922. Pic, which averaged a just-OK $2,127 per screen, has cumed $1.7 million.

Roadside Attractions added theaters to its Oscar hopeful “Biutiful,” which posted $731,209 from 177 engagements for a per-screen average of $4,131. Last weekend, the film bowed at 50 locations; domestic cume is $1.5 million.

Last year, Screen Gems scored a touchdown over the Super Bowl sesh as romancer “Dear John” opened to $30.5 million, a hearty start for the typically depressed weekend. That said, however, overall box office last year during Super Bowl weekend was down 26% vs. 2009. This year the frame was off 23% from 2010.

Pre-weekend tracking for “The Roommate” wasn’t as robust as for last year’s top player. But thanks to an audience that was mostly women (65%) and mostly young (61% under 21) — groups that aren’t typically the biggest Super Bowl enthusiasts, “Roommate” was able to land above Sony’s $10 million-$12 million projection. Pic was budgeted at $16 million, so with its solid U.S. start the film should ultimately be profitable.

“It’s just one of those situations where you have Screen Gems hitting their sweet spot,” said Rory Bruer, prexy of worldwide distribution for Sony.

“Roommate,” starring Leighton Meester as a deranged college student who terrorizes her roommate (Minka Kelly), marks a return to more traditional scarefare for the genre label. Screen Gems’ most recent titles, “Burlesque” and “Country Strong,” repped significant departures from its usual projects.

In hopes of attracting 3D fanboys, U went wide with “Sanctum,” managing to secure more than 2,000 domestic 3D runs. The film earned 84% of its weekend gross from 3D locations, which repped approximately 74% of the pic’s total engagements.

U decided to launch “Sanctum” this weekend to avoid the crunch of other 3D pics, including this week’s bow of “Gnomeo and Juliet” and “Justin Bieber: Never Say Never,” followed by Nicolas Cage starrer “Drive Angry” on Feb. 25.

“3D was the way we wanted to present this film,” said U distrib topper Nikki Rocco. She noted that the film’s weighted 3D take was due in large part to audience perception of exec producer James Cameron’s talent with the format thanks to “Avatar.” The studio wasn’t shy about touting Cameron’s name in marketing materials for “Sanctum.”

U and Relativity Media jointly nabbed “Sanctum” for a reported $12 million, which included domestic rights and a handful of international territories. Both companies hope “Sanctum,” from helmer Alister Grierson, will lead to future projects with Cameron.

Not surprisingly, the weekend’s soph-sesh entries, “The Rite” and “The Mechanic,” saw the biggest drops this weekend, mainly because of their prominent male demo. CBS Films’ “The Mechanic,” which fell 53%, grossed an estimated $5.4 million, while New Line’s “The Rite,” with Warner Bros. distribbing, was off by 62% for a weekend take of $5.6 million. “The Rite” has cumed $23.7 million; “The Mechanic,” $20.1 million.

Warners is predicting a Saturday-to-Sunday drop for “The Rite” as high as 68%, while CBS Films is being slightly more generous with “The Mechanic,” estimating a 63% decline Sunday. “The Rite” skewed more toward females during its opening weekend, which could mean better news for the film Sunday.

In limited release, IFC Films launched “Cold Weather” to sold-out screenings in New York, averaging $15,150 per screen at one engagement.

Freestyle Releasing showed less traction with its debut title “Waiting for Forever,” which scored a modest per-screen average of $3,398 from three locations.

Disney’s 3D toon titan “Tangled” posted an outstanding $23.7 million this weekend, mostly from seven territories, including the U.K. and Spain. Currently, the toon is playing in 50 overseas markets, which reps about 85% of the international marketplace; foreign cume is $285.1 million.

“Tangled” handily beat Sony’s “The Green Hornet,” which posted $16.7 million from 73 territories this weekend; comicbook pic tallied $83.8 million internationally through the weekend. Fox Searchlight’s “Black Swan,” screening in 28 overseas markets, took in $12.8 million for a cume just shy of $50 million.

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