‘Christ’ caps Crockett

Gibson pic grabs $17 mil; 'Alamo' falls off its horse

This article was updated at 7:06 p.m.

The box office “Passion” has returned, brightening an Easter weekend that saw an opening for “The Alamo” that Disney would like to forget.

Newmarket’s seventh session of religious blockbuster “The Passion of the Christ” easily topped the competish with an estimated $17.1 million at 3,240 playdates, marking its fourth No. 1 finish. The 47-day domestic cume for Mel Gibson’s controversial epic reached $354.9 million, placing it eighth best at the B.O. all-time.

Newmarket prexy Bob Berney said the 61% jump from the sixth frame appeared to stem mostly from first-time viewers with repeat customers coming from Latino markets and church groups.

“A lot of individuals who had not yet seen the film wanted to go as a part of their Easter weekend,” he added.

Berney said “Passion” could reach $400 million domestically by the end of its run, which would place it sixth all time ahead of “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” ($375.2 million) and “Jurassic Park” ($357.1 million) and just behind “Spider-Man” ($403.7 million).

“Passion” had opened with three weekends in first, followed by finishes in second, third and fifth. It was the first time since “Jerry Maguire” performed the feat in 1997 that a film has returned to first after a three-week absence; “Passion” also posted the second-best seventh weekend ever, topped only by “Titanic” with $25.9 million.

Last weekend’s winner, Sony/Revolution’s “Hellboy,” finished a distant second in its soph sesh with $11.1 million at 3,043 playdates, representing a 52% decline.

Historical dud

Disney’s historical drama “The Alamo” debuted disappointingly with $9.2 million in a third-place tie with Fox Searchlight’s comedy “Johnson Family Vacation.”

Pre-weekend expectations for “The Alamo” had been moderate with rival execs forecasting an opening in the teen millions. Mouse House distribution chief Chuck Viane said he was at a loss to explain the lack of marketplace traction for “The Alamo,” believed to have cost north of $100 million.

“I’m disappointed for the filmmakers, who worked their tails off,” Viane said. “Sadly, we are first among the five new films, but not at a number that’s satisfying.”

Viane allowed that the marketplace — which has seen nine wide releases open in the past two weekends — may have become overcrowded but refused to second-guess the selection of the Easter frame to debut “The Alamo.” Pic, directed by John Lee Hancock, was originally scheduled to open on Christmas but was pushed back when the helmer asked for more time.

For Disney, which racked up a stellar 2003, “The Alamo” represents a third consecutive underperfomance by a major pic following “Home on the Range,” which has cumed $27.5 million in its first 10 days, and “The Ladykillers” with $30.4 million in 17 days.

Other than “The Passion,” “Johnson Family Vacation” provided an upbeat development with the $12 million film posting the best per-engagement average among the top 10 and copping six of the top 10 individual screens.

“We’re very pleased that we were able to draw from both men and women of all ages for a real spring break kind of film,” said Fox Searchlight distrib prexy Steve Gilula.

A trio of holdover pix battled for the fifth spot with MGM’s sophomore outing of “Walking Tall” at $8.3 million, followed by Disney’s second frame of “Home on the Range” with $8.2 million and Warner Bros.’ third sesh of “Scooby-Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed” at $8 million.

Three other newcomers took the final top 10 slots with Warner’s release of Franchise’s sequel comedy “The Whole Ten Yards” at $6.7 million, followed by Miramax’s family fantasy “Ella Enchanted” with $6.1 million and Fox’s release of Regency’s teen sex comedy “The Girl Next Door” with $6 million. Paramount’s second weekend of “The Prince and Me” came in 11th with $5.5 million at 2,711 playdates.

The take for “Ten Yards” was less than half of the $13.7 million debut in 2000 for “The Whole Nine Yards,” which cumed $57 million.

Miramax reported encouraging exit polling for “Ella,” with 95% of young girls saying they wanted to see the film again. Pic drew an 85% female audience.

Focus’ fourth frame of “Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind” grossed a moderate $2.4 million at 734 playdates, 386 fewer sites than its previous weekend, to lift cume to $25.8 million.

Strong overall sesh

Thanks largely to “Passion,” overall business remained on an upward trend with an estimated $115 million for the frame, according to Dan Marks, exec VP at B.O. tracker Nielsen EDI. Year-to-date biz has hit $2.217 billion, up 9% over the same point in 2003.

The weekend total was up 17% over the same frame a year ago and up 7% over last year’s Easter weekend and represented the second-best Easter weekend ever, trailing only the 2002 session. ‘”Business was fairly good, particularly since Easter is typically not one of the larger weekends,” Marks noted.

Marks also dismissed the notion that there was too much new product in the marketplace. “There’s no question that five is a lot of new films and there’s a risk of cannibalization but all the new movies were aimed at different audiences,” he said. “What happened this weekend is that nothing broke out of the box.”

In the specialty market, Miramax scored solidly with Italian drama “I’m Not Scared” taking in $62,000 at a quartet of venues in Los Angeles and New York. Sony Classics added 13 playdates for “Good Bye, Lenin!” and grossed $285,173 at 83 screens for a $1.9 million cume.

Distrib’s soph sesh of drama “Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter … and Spring” took in $5,533 at seven playdates, pushing its total to $116,758. It added 14 locations to “Monsieur Ibrahim” for a total of 90 and grossed $200,433 to lift the cume to $1.7 million and expanded “Bon Voyage” by 19 to 26 in taking in $116,822 for a total of $314,834.

Lions Gate’s third sesh of Nicole Kidman starrer “Dogville” added 41 theaters for a total of 55 and grossed $200,000 to push its cume to $487,000.

A trio of wide openers will hit the already crowded marketplace next weekend: Miramax’s “Kill Bill Vol. 2;” Lions Gate’s “The Punisher,” based on the Marvel comic book; and U’s showbiz comedy “Connie and Carla.” “Kill Bill Vol. 1” grossed nearly $70 million following its October release.

Sony reported solid reaction from Saturday night sneaks of its Jennifer Garner comedy “13 Going on 30” with 80% capacity at 638 locations. The pic, which opens April 23, drew 65% females and 55% under 25 years old.

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