Denzel fired up

Fox's 'Man' grabs $23 mil, kills 'Bill'

This article was updated at 3:55 p.m.

Denzel Washington ignited $23 million worth of business over the weekend for the bow of 20th Century Fox’s “Man on Fire,” the best opening of his career.

That was just enough to take the top spot — edging Revolution and Sony’s “13 Going on 30,” which grew up to $22 million in its first frame.

Reflecting a strong box office market overall, it was the first time two pics have opened to more than $20 million on the same weekend in April.

The second installment in Quentin Tarantino’s “Kill Bill” kung fu saga, last weekend’s top pic, took a steep dive of 59% in its sophomore session, taking in $10.4 million. Calming to $2.1 million, “The Passion of the Christ” was not in the top 10 pics for the first time in its nine weeks of release.

With several other pics competing in the market for male action fans, it appears Washington’s sex appeal with women pushed “Fire” to the top. Despite the pic’s violence — TV spots push the line “art is death; he’s about to paint his masterpiece” — Fox distrib prexy Bruce Snyder said exit polls showed that women made up a 55% majority of “Fire’s” aud, which he credited to the storyline of a bodyguard bonding with a little girl, played by Dakota Fanning.

The R-rated pic also played older, according to the surveys that found that 68% of the aud was over 25.

‘Day’ pass

Pic passes “Training Day” on Washington’s all-time best opening list, which unspooled with $22.5 million in its first weekend in October 2001.

The $22 million bow for “13 Going on 30,” which Sony said cost $37 million to produce, was a strong first outing for Jennifer Garner in the title role. Pic’s opening sesh compares favorably to the openings of other laffers aimed at young women, such as the $23.8 million bow in “How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days” in February 2003 and the $27.7 million debut for “Along Came Polly” starring Ben Stiller and Jennifer Aniston in January.

Sony domestic distrib prexy Rory Bruer said, “It exceeded our expectations to do that kind of business in April while another movie does over $20 million.”

Revolution partner Tom Sherak said, “On April 23, with two pictures opening this strong, this summer looks like it’s already started.”

Bruer said the studio’s exit polls showed the PG-13-rated pic’s aud was 65% female and 55% under 25.

Steep slide

Though “Kill Bill Vol. 2’s” 59% slide is steep even for the short-life-spanned action genre, its cume of $43 million is running almost exactly on par with “Kill Bill Vol. 1,” which had brought in $43.2 million through its second weekend on its way to a total domestic run of $69.3 million.

Miramax’s chief operating officer Rick Sands blamed marketplace competish for “Vol. 2’s” soph slump, but added, “We’re looking to do the same business as ‘Vol. 1.’ ”

Part of the challenge in Miramax’s decision to split “Kill Bill,” which the studio says cost $60 million to produce, into two separate releases is that not everyone who had seen the first half would be interested in seeing the second part. But, Sands says exit polls over the last weekend found that 33% of the “Vol. 2” aud had seen “Vol. 1” only on home video.

Miramax combined marketing campaigns for the “Vol. 1” DVD, which was available on April 13, with its push for the theatrical bow of “Vol. 2” on April 16.

After finishing in the second spot last week, Lions Gate’s “The Punisher” slipped 56% in its second weekend, grossing $6.1 million to bring its total take to $24 million.

Overall, Nielsen EDI exec VP Dan Mark estimated this weekend’s box office at $95 million, a 3.1% gain over last year. Year to date, B.O. is running 7.7% over the same period in 2003, $2.492 billion vs. $2.394 billion.

The year-to-year gain, however, is largely attributable to the B.O. monster “The Passion of the Christ,” whose cume was pushed to $364.3 million this weekend. The frame’s $2.1 million for dropped Mel Gibson’s crucifixion depiction out of the top 10 for the first time since it unspooled on Feb. 25.

“Passion” is the No. 7 all-time domestic grosser, having passed “Jurassic Park’s” $357 million last weekend. However, it looks as if it won’t be a threat to the pics directly above it: No. 6 “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King’s” with $376 million and No. 5 “Spider-Man’s” $404 million.

Docu focus

In exclusive engagements, documentaries continued to show B.O. strength. Thinkfilm’s “The Agronomist,” Jonathan Demme’s doc about independent Haitian activist and radio broadcaster Jean Dominique, picked up $35,322 from seven screens in Los Angeles and Gotham, for a per-screen average of $5,046. Doc expands to San Francisco, Boston and Miami next weekend.

IFC’s “This So Called Disaster” took in $9,305 over the weekend from one screen at Gotham’s Film Forum. The doc, about the production of play “The Late Henry Moss” with cast members Nick Nolte and Sean Penn, bowed on Wednesday, and has so far taken in $14,960.

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