'Flight' lifts off with $25 million

Moviegoers crushed it this weekend — particularly on the East Coast and abroad — as Disney Animation’s “Wreck-It Ralph” scored a best-ever Stateside three-day debut for the toon shop at $49.1 million. Sony-MGM’s 23rd Bond film “Skyfall,” meanwhile, turned in a whopping $156 million weekend take internationally.

Domestic totals rang in at approximately 23% ahead of this time last year, a welcome surprise due in large part to a resurgence in East Coast moviegoing. By Saturday evening, only a handful of theaters were still closed in Manhattan and surrounding areas.

“If there was a location that was closed, then you could find two or three theaters nearby that were doing a lot more business,” said Disney distribution exec Dave Hollis.

In a moderately sized Stateside rollout, totaling 1,884 locations, Paramount’s Denzel Washington starrer “Flight” soared with an estimated $25 million through Sunday.

Universal’s $14 million martial arts pic “The Man With the Iron Fists,” at 1,868, grossed an expected $8.2 million; all but one of the film’s top five-grossing theaters were on the East Coast. “Fists” landed at No. 4 overall, behind its fellow top newcomers and Warner Bros.’ remarkable holdover “Argo,” which fell just 15% domestically for a projected $10.2 million in its fourth frame. “Argo’s” Stateside cume is $75.9 million.

The weekend’s hold for “Argo” bodes well for “Flight” in the coming weeks, even with Sony launching “Skyfall” domestically. The latest James Bond pic has tallied a massive $287 million overseas in just 10 days.

“Certainly you think ‘Flight’ would have had an impact on ‘Argo,'” said Paramount distribution and marketing prexy Megan Colligan. “November is a great play period, and the marketplace really starts to expand.”

“Wreck-It Ralph” landed at the high end of expectations as East Coast plexes contributed at around the usual 24% for a Disney pic’s opening gross. The vidgame-themed toon also saw beefy B.O. at evening showtimes thanks to a strong nonfamily turnout at 32%.

Still, the frothy toon scored with some East Coast kids out of school Friday, playing much like the start to a holiday weekend.

“There’s a ton of positive momentum and craftsmanship coming out of this studio,” Hollis said. He said the toon should also benefit from Election Day, when 25% of kids are out of school, and Veteran’s Day, when 41% of schools are closed.

The Stateside specialty biz wasn’t too bruised by the hurricane’s aftermath this weekend: E1 bowed musical ensembler “A Late Quartet” at five Stateside locations, of which two were in New York, for a decent-enough per-screen average of $8,433. Pic sold out screenings at Gotham’s Lincoln Plaza, though the Sunshine underperformed.

Fox Searchlight continues to broaden “The Sessions” to additional U.S. markets, totaling 69 this weekend, for a per-screen average of $6,609. “Sessions” has cumed just shy of $1 million after three weeks.

On the opposite side of the country, Anchor Bay’s dark comedy “Vamps,” from “Clueless” director Amy Heckerling, failed to get much valley love as it grossed a paltry $500 from only the AMC Burbank 8. Pic’s been available on VOD since Oct. 19.

B.O. ‘Wreck’-ing ball

The strong debut for the $165 million-budgeted “Wreck-It Ralph” reflected broad interest demonstrated by a healthy 58% Friday-to-Saturday bump. The toon also played well in heavily Hispanic markets like Albuquerque and El Paso, Texas, where the pic grew 36% and 26%, respectively, on Saturday.

East Coast markets like Philadelphia also saw bumps after opening day, though New York and Washington were flat. Those markets generally perform on the soft side for animation, however.

“You want there to be a seamlessness across the country, and you’re seeing that right now,” Hollis said, referring to the nation’s demographic spread.

“Wreck-It Ralph,” which received an A CinemaScore, debuted with an estimated $12 million from six international markets, including Mexico, where the toon collected $4.9 million — ahead of the local $3.2 million debut of “Skyfall.” In Russia, “Ralph” earned a solid $6.1 million, beating “Skyfall” in its second frame, with $5.2 million locally.

“Skyfall,” which expanded to 53 markets this weekend (including Germany, India, Italy and Spain), looks to translate its powerhouse overseas run into a topnotch Stateside debut Friday. The Bondpic already pushed Sony Intl., at $2.16 billion year-to-date, past the studio’s previous yearly record of $2.14 billion internationally in 2009.

“Skyfall” landed exceptionally well in Germany, where it amassed an estimated $23.9 million, making it the country’s biggest opening so far this year. Italy contributed $7.9 million, while in Spain, the film earned $6.7 million — both debut perfs were the second-highest for each country this year.

The U.K., meanwhile, is far and away the film’s biggest contributor: “Skyfall” tallied the territory’s highest-ever opening week total ($59.9 million), with an estimated 10-day tally of $85.8 million locally.

‘Flight’ home bound?

Par could have trouble with “Flight” translating overseas, based on the film’s underperform ance this weekend in Canada. Still, the $31 million film should continue to grow domestically; pic’s over-25 adult core, at 89%, and A- CinemaScore should help “Flight” spread its wings.

Colligan said she was encouraged by the pic’s Stateside flight pattern so far, saying, “I love those weekends when every single time I report the numbers they’re climbing.”

Moreover, the film didn’t just work on the coasts, it played consistently throughout places like the South, a tougher region for sophisticated fare.

Par took a relatively conservative approach with “Flight,” opting not to release the film at the usual 3,000-plus location spread — nor did it use a traditional platform strategy. Instead, Par decided to start the film at the nation’s top locations, with plans to supplement potentially waning holdover grosses with newer — albeit lower-grossing — theaters in the coming weeks.

“Flight” returns helmer Robert Zemeckis to the world of live action after 2000’s “Cast Away” earned a stellar $234 million domestically. That kind of cume is a tall order for “Flight” — Par is using “The Fighter” ($93 million) as a more suitable comparison.

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