Robo actioner stays strong; dance remake steps aside

While Stateside box office saw one of the weakest October frames on record, local fall holidays kept overseas B.O. playing to a stronger beat.

DreamWorks’ soph-sesh holdover “Real Steel,” with an estimated weekend domestic take of $16.3 million (down 40%), narrowly beat Paramount’s “Footloose” retread, which debuted this weekend in the U.S. with a projected $16.1 million.

But “Real Steel,” distribbed worldwide by Disney, was considerably more robust overseas, earning a chart-topping $23.3 million from 28 territories (41% of the international market). An early overseas release of “The Three Musketeers,” which Summit launches Stateside on Friday, grossed just north of $20 million via local distribs. “Real Steel” has cumed $108.3 million worldwide; “Musketeers,” $49 million, according to Rentrak.

The weekend’s overall domestic totals reached only $83 million, according to one studio’s estimates. That puts the 2011 frame just slightly above the lowest-grossing October weekend, 2007′s Oct. 5-7 frame with $79.7 million overall.

The Stateside slowdown has some bizzers scratching their heads since mid-October usually is a fine time at the B.O.

This time last year, for instance, “Jackass 3D” became the month’s highest opener ever with $50 million. B.O. pundits attribute the 30% downslide from last year in part to teens’ recent B.O. boredom, affecting pics like “Footloose.”

The battle between “Real Steel” and “Footloose” came down to Sunday’s projections, with distrib Disney estimating that “Real Steel” will do better that day, thanks to the film’s stronghold among family auds. “Footloose,” which drew a considerable over-35 femme crowd, could still see a Sunday bump, as moms and daughters visit the multiplexes.

Also bowing this weekend, 20th Century Fox’s adult-skewing birdwatching comedy “The Big Year” failed to take flight, with a paltry $3.3 million through Sunday.

Universal’s “The Thing” — a prequel to John Carpenter’s original 1982 film — debuted in the U.S., earning a projected $8.7 million. That’s considerably lower than expected; pre-weekend tracking had the film pegged to earn in the low-double digits. Internationally, the film earned $1.5 million from five markets, including Australia, where it opened to a weak $590,000 on 127 screens.

In limited Stateside release, Sony Pictures Classics successfully launched Pedro Almodovar’s well-reviewed “The Skin I Live In” at six locations for a hefty per-screen average of $38,497. Gotham’s Metropolitan Opera kickstarted its sixth season of live transmissions on Saturday, screening “Anna Bolena” for an estimated $2 million in North America. It was seen live on more than 850 screens, with an additional 625 screens in a total of 39 overseas markets.

Femmes fancy ‘Footloose’

Budgeted at a reported $24 million, “Footloose” earned an overwhelming 75% of its weekend gross from women, 27% of whom were under 18. Pic reps a modest investment for Paramount.

“We live in a world where everyone obsesses over rank,” said Par vice chairman Rob Moore. “But we believe this film will have a strong multiple.”

To that point, “Footloose” played exceptionally well in the heartland, with Salt Lake City and Oklahoma City the film’s top two markets, respectively. Moore said pics tend to have longer legs in the heartland, where auds are typically less focused on opening weekend. (“Footloose” received an A CinemaScore rating.)

Pic’s strong exit polls should help build word of mouth, though it faces tough competition this week as Par’s own “Paranormal Activity 3″ launches, likely attracting strong responses from under-25 femmes. “Footloose” has cumed $3.3 million internationally, with the U.K. contributing a soft bow of $750,000.

Dave Hollis, exec VP of theatrical exhibition sales and distribution at Disney, pointed to the overseas success of “Real Steel,” saying it mirrors the film’s domestic perf. “We’re playing in an environment where something original is playing to a broad swath of audiences,” Hollis said.

Not unlike U’s “Cowboys and Aliens,” which underperformed at the summer box office with $167 million globally (Par has overseas rights), “Real Steel” is a fresh property from DreamWorks, but the latter film managed to hook an often lucrative (but unpredictable) family market. “At the end of the day, it’s about the story and characters — ‘Real Steel’ has something to offer for everyone.”

“Cowboys and Aliens,” budgeted at a reported $163 million, cost more than “Real Steel” (at $110 million).

U’s “The Thing” carries a modest pricetag of $38 million, according to sources, while Fox’s “The Big Year” cost $28 million. Neither pic is a major financial risk, yet it remains highly uncertain whether either film can turn a profit.

Nikki Rocco, U’s domestic distribution prexy, said there’s still hope for “The Thing.” “With a modest budget, ancillary windows and Universal distributing for overseas rights holder Morgan Creek, the end results should be OK for the studio,” Rocco said.

“The Thing” faces a major roadblock next week in “Paranormal 3.” But the U scarer attracted a mostly male audience at 57%, while “Paranormal” should skew primarily female (as do most PG-13-rated horror pics). Both “The Thing” and “The Big Year” received underwhelming B- CinemaScore ratings.

Fox distribution topper Bruce Snyder said he hopes adult auds will continue to discover “The Big Year.” “We didn’t connect with the audience we were hoping to, but we’re hoping people will catch up to it,” Snyder said.

O’seas VIPs

U’s “Johnny English Reborn” collected a stellar $17.3 million in its fifth week of international play; cume is $85.1 million.

In Germany, the film grossed a chart-topping $2.6 million in its second frame, boosted by students still on vacation. The film’s repeat perf in New Zealand, up 32%, also were boosted by local holidays. But it was the U.K. that continued to see the film’s best gross, with a weekend take of $5 million, or 29% of the local market. Pic is well positioned to benefit from school holidays that kick off in Blighty in one week.

“Johnny English” launches in the U.S. on Oct. 28.

Also performing well overseas, Sony’s former champ “The Smurfs” grossed $4 million this weekend, pushing its international cume past the $400 million mark.

And in France, Michel Hazanavicius’ Cannes breakout “The Artist” debuted via Warner Bros. with an estimated $3.3 million. Pic bows in the U.S. through the Weinstein Co. Nov. 23.

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