‘Butterfly’ nets win

New Line thriller leads B.O. with $17 million

This article was updated at 4:16 p.m.

New Line’s Ashton Kutcher starrer “The Butterfly Effect” fluttered to the top of the box office heap this weekend with an estimated $17.1 million debut.

Romancers grabbed the next two B.O. positions, with Universal’s “Along Came Polly” the runner-up over its soph session at $16.6 million and DreamWorks’ “Win a Date With Tad Hamilton” bowing with $7.5 million.

The weekend was mostly ho-hum aside from the solid opening for time-travel drama “Butterfly,” effectively marking time for pics seeking some Oscar bounce from Tuesday’s Academy Awards noms. Warner Bros.’ long-running “Mystic River,” which has been drawing broad kudos-season notices, added 1,194 playdates this weekend for a total 1,327 to gross $3.1 million in 10th place with a $58.5 cume.

Meanwhile, 20th Century Fox’s unassuming “Cheaper by the Dozen” used its $6.6 million weekend haul to push family laffer’s cume to an enviable $122.8 million. Finishing sixth on the frame, Steve Martin starrer now reps the recent holiday season’s second-biggest grosser after “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King.”

New Line’s “King,” which landed fifth on the weekend, rung up another $6.9 million to raise its cume to a phenomenal $337.9 million.

Warners actioner “Torque” fell a big 56% in its soph session to $4.4 million in eighth place. And the modestly budgeted Mouse tooner “Disney’s Teacher’s Pet,” which bowed outside the top 10 a week ago, fell 44% to $1.4 million this frame.

Industrywide, the weekend’s $100 million in total estimated grosses was on par with the relatively lackluster B.O. of the same frame in 2003. Year-to-date, 2004 is off 6% from a comparable portion of last year with $435 million in total B.O.

Auds fill “Void”

In an impressive limited bow, IFC Films’ “Touching the Void” unspooled in five locations and grossed an estimated $93,359, or $18,671 per site. Mountain-climbing docu will hold with present playdates in Gotham and other markets until February, then expand into L.A. and additional cities.

Elsewhere in the specialty market during the weekend, Newmarket’s Charlize Theron starrer “Monster” added 79 theaters for a total 330 and grossed $2 million, or a sturdy $6,066 per venue with a $6 million cume. Serial-killer drama adds about 200 runs on Friday.

Fox Searchlight’s immigrant drama “In America” added 19 runs for a total 305 and grossed $850,000, or $2,778 per site with a $9.1 million cume.

Lions Gate’s period drama “Girl with a Pearl Earring” added 21 engagements for a total 72 and grossed $520,000, an ample $7,222 per playdate with a $2.6 million cume. And distrib’s Las Vegas drama “The Cooler” added 12 theaters for a total 408 in grossing $910,000, or $2,230 with a $5 million cume.

Three Sony Classics titles added playdates this weekend:

Robert McNamara docu “The Fog of War” gained eight playdates for a total 17 and grossed $167,213, or a notable $9,836 per engagement with a $688,539 cume.

Its French toon “The Triplets of Belleville” added 10 engagements for a total 45 and grossed $226,966, or $5,044 per run with a $1.8 million cume.

Robert Altman’s ballet docudrama “The Company” expanded by 11 theaters for a total 54 and grossed $200,290, or $3,709 per venue with a $895,262 cume.

Miramax’s French-Canadian drama “The Barbarian Invasions” added two playdates for a total 12 and grossed $22,161, or $1,847 per engagement with a $934,488 cume.

And Lantern Lane’s docu “Aileen: The Life and Death of a Serial Killer” added one theater Friday and another the next day for a total four by Saturday, grossing $11,078 on the frame and boosting cume to $47,379.

Super competish

Three wide openers are set for next weekend, which features competish from Sunday’s pro football Super Bowl telecast. Those are Paramount’s high school laffer “The Perfect Score,” Sony Screen Gems’ urban drama “You Got Served” and Warners’ Hawaiian laffer “The Big Bounce.”

Those new pics will go up against not only this weekend’s openers but also kudos-driven holdovers. And among titles entering their soph sessions, “Butterfly” will bear watching for holding power following pic’s auspicious first flight.

“Most of the people who went to see ‘Butterfly’ this weekend wanted to see Ashton Kutcher in a different sort of role,” observed David Tuckerman, New Line distribution prexy.

Kutcher, best known for his work in feature laffers and TV sitcoms, fell just short of matching his best movie bow to date. Last year’s laffer “Just Married” still reps his best opening at $17.5 million.

“Butterfly,” which was co-directed by J. Mackye Gruber and Eric Bress, co-stars Amy Smart (“Road Trip”). Pic drew roughly evenly among males and femmes with 70% of patrons under age 25.

“Tad Hamilton,” helmed by Robert Luketic (“Legally Blonde”), debuted roughly in line with pre-release tracking but repped a mild disappointment for distrib. Pic skewed to younger femmes.

“Our challenge for the next few weeks is to broaden out beyond that core group,” DreamWorks distribution topper Jim Tharp said.

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