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Mouse treasure chest

Shares gold with Sponge

For the Walt Disney Co.’s “National Treasure,” $35.3 million marked the spot this weekend. Nicolas Cage starrer, produced by Jerry Bruckheimer, played at 3,017 theaters and won the frame in a crowded market for families.

Paramount’s “The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie” claimed $33.5 million from 3,212 locations.

Close behind was another Disney pic, Pixar’s “The Incredibles,” which reeled in $26.8 million in its third weekend, down 47% from last week. Cume is $177.8 million.

Warner Bros.’ “The Polar Express” played decently in its sophomore sesh, picking up $15.2 million over the three-day span. Cume on the pic, which cost $170 million to produce, now stands at $51 million.

Universal’s national expansion of “Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason” resulted in $10.1 million, up 16% from its early release in 530 theaters in the top 100 markets last weekend. Sequel played in 2,450 over the frame, an expansion of 1,920 venues.

Going into the holiday season, “Treasure” was not on the radar of many box office watchers. But Disney distrib topper Chuck Viane said the pic’s perf was no surprise to him. “Most of the projections had us in third place (for the weekend), but we had seen it coming in the tracking for the last couple of weeks,” he explained.

Wide appeal

Viane said the pic played strong across the board, with studio polls showing teens making up 21% of the aud, families 24%. Pic also drew good date crowds, with 55% of the aud coming as couples.

“It spreads right across, much like ‘Incredibles,’ but the difference is that (the pics) are starting with separate core audiences,” he said.

Par distrib head Wayne Lewellen said “SpongeBob” also was seeing a broader-than-expected aud, with 42% coming from the “nonfamily” category — unaccompanied teens and adults without children.

“It’s a very strong number for a film like this,” he said.

The “SpongeBob” bow also reps the best opening for a film adapted from a Nickelodeon toon property, passing the $27.3 million bow for “Rugrats” in 1998.

Warners said it was happy with the 39% drop for “Polar Express.”

“We held in very well,” said Warners distrib prexy Dan Fellman. “It’s the strategy we’ve been working on, and we’re pleased with the results we’ve had to date.”

Imax hit

While the pic has yet to catch fire in traditional theaters, it is proving to be a major hit in Imax venues, which are playing a special 3-D version.

Over the weekend, the 60 Imax venues grossed $2.05 million, down just 3% from opening weekend. Over the frame, these 60 playdates, out of the 3,650 total for “Polar,” accounted for 13.5% of the pic’s receipts.

U distrib chief Nikki Rocco said she was pleased with the national rollout of “Bridget.” “We are the alternative choice in the market for the adult female audience,” she said.

Also in its second week, New Line’s “After the Sunset” picked up $5.3 million, down 52% from its opening, bringing cume on the Brett Ratner-helmed caper to $19.3 million. And Rogue’s “Seed of Chucky” rolled up $3.1 million in its follow-up week, down 64% from its opening.

This weekend Sony held about 900 sneaks of Revolution’s “Christmas With the Kranks,” which opens Wednesday. Shows were filled to about 85% capacity. “I was surprised to get as many people with all these other family pictures playing,” said Sony distrib chief Rory Bruer.

Exits showed families made up 41% of the aud. Otherwise, aud broke down 51% under age 25 and 55% female.

Overall, the marketplace stayed in the black, with Nielsen EDI estimating the frame’s total box office at $150 million. That’s a 10.6% improvement over the weekend before Thanksgiving in 2003. Year-to-date, total box office is now $8.021 billion, up 2.4% from last year’s biz through this point.

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