BV back on its B.O. ‘Game’

Opening during NBA playoffs pays off

Buena Vista’s basketball-themed drama “He Got Game” won the weekend playoffs with a solid $8.1 million opening, giving director Spike Lee his first box office championship.

It also put BV back in the game after nearly five months on the sidelines. “Game” is the company’s first No. 1 pic since early December, when the kidpic “Flubber” topped the chart for two consecutive weeks.

Disney took a calculated risk in opening the film during the NBA playoffs, and it appeared to have paid off. “It gave us some good advertising possibilities,” said Phil Barlow, BV president of domestic distribution.

That will likely more than make up for the fact that attendance was expected to drop off somewhat Sunday as the core audience of male sports fans stayed home to watch their choice of three televised games.

“Game” stars Denzel Washington as a convict who is given a week of freedom to persuade his estranged son, a star high school ball player, to sign with the governor’s alma mater. The debut was actually the second-highest for Lee: the 1992 biopic “Malcolm X” — which also starred Washington — bowed to $9.9 million.

In general, however, pre-summer doldrums continued to plague the nation’s theaters. Total ticket sales appeared likely to come in at just over $60 million, the lowest weekend tally of the year.

That’s a drop of about 12% from this time last year, when “Breakdown” and “Austin Powers” led the pack with $12.3 million and $9.5 million, respectively. The past weekend was also the first one since November in which the top film failed to crack $10 million.

Warner Bros.’ 4-week-old “City of Angels” remained ensconced in second place, down just 17% to $6.6 million, while last week’s high-scorer “The Big Hit” took a predictable big hit, dropping 44% to a studio-estimated $6 million.

In fourth place, Mandalay and Sony’s “Les Miserables” opened to a middling $5.3 million in 1,477 villages or $3,588 per setting, according to studio projections.

While the Liam Neeson-Uma Thurman starrer performed well in upscale houses, “it didn’t play in the multiplexes as well as we would have liked,” said Jeff Blake, president of Sony Pictures Releasing.

The Bille August-helmed pic, the latest in a long line of films based on the Victor Hugo classic, reportedly cost about $32 million to make.

Mutual and Universal’s actioner “Black Dog” limped to a $4.6 million debut in 2,025 kennels or $2,275 per cage. The film stars Patrick Swayze, who took over late in the game for an injured Kevin Sorbo.

Meanwhile, DreamWorks’ family film “Paulie” continues to hold its altitude, dropping just 6% to $4.1 million. The talking parrot film got off to a slow start, but appears to be benefiting from positive word of mouth. After three weekends it has cumed just $15.6 million. If its current trajectory holds, however, it should eventually top $25 million.

DreamWorks distribution topper Jim Tharp noted that while it was difficult to market, “Paulie” was now attracting audiences of all ages. “Usually with a family film, teens won’t go,” said Tharp. “Teen girls have responded very well to ‘Paulie.’ ”

The picture tied for sixth place with the 20-week-old “Titanic,” which failed to make the top five for the first time since its opening last December.

Among limited openers, Sony Pictures Classics’ “Wilde” appeared on track to snap up roughly $70,000 in seven locations, or $10,000 per screen, according to Daily Variety’s projections.

The picture, which bowed on two screens in New York and five in Southern California, racked up more than $12,000 Friday and Saturday alone at Gotham’s Paris Theater.

Sony Pictures Releasing’s “Dancer Texas, Pop. 81” got off to a clumsier start. The film grossed about $100,000 in 26 complexes, for a so-so $3,846 average. But the picture shone in some Lone Star State locations: It racked up $10,000 at the Cinemark Barton Creek in Austin, for instance.

“Dancer” will continue to expand in Texas while playing specialized houses in the rest of the country, Blake said.

The opening of October Films’ “Still Breathing” was labored. The pic huffed to $85,000 in 67 sites, for a $1,269 average.

Fox Searchlight’s “Shooting Fish” lured just $59,000 in 23 locations in New York, L.A., Toronto and San Francisco, or $2,565 per barrel. But the picture saw a promising 82% increase Saturday over Friday.