B.O. far from ‘Heaven’

$20 mil tops in tepid sesh

An already sluggish year at the box office keeps getting worse.

The $20 million opening for Ridley Scott’s epic “Kingdom of Heaven,” while within 20th Century Fox’s dampened domestic expectations, led a frame in which theater traffic slowed to a crawl.

In recent years the first weekend of May has seen a big expansion in the marketplace. But if Nielsen EDI’s estimate of $83 million holds when final figures are tallied, it would be the worst weekend of an already listless year. It is also 26% behind last year’s summer kickoff frame, when “Van Helsing” opened to $51.7 million –perceived as a disappointment at the time.

Warner Bros.’ slasher remake “House of Wax” opened to $12.2 million from 3,111 locations, a healthy number for the $35 million film but on the low end of industry expectations heading into the weekend.

Opening a bit stronger than expected was Lions Gate’s “Crash,” which collected $9.1 million from 1,864 venues. Paul Haggis debut helming effort tied for third place with last week’s champ, Disney’s “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,” which dropped 57% in its second week.

Universal’s “The Interpreter” finished out the top five with $7.5 million in its third week. Nicole Kidman-Sean Penn thriller was down 46%; cume is $54.1 million.

It beat out Revolution and Sony’s “XXX: State of the Union,” which grossed $5.4 million in its sophomore session, down 58%, bringing cume to $20.8 million.

Entry of “House of Wax” seems to have taken a big bite out of the horror biz, as MGM’s “The Amityville Horror” drooped 60% in its fourth week after two weeks of steady holdover play. Pic grossed $3.2 million over the frame; cume is $60.1 million.

Finishing in 11th place was Sony Pictures Classics’ “Kung Fu Hustle” with $1.1 million from 904 screens. Stephen Chow martial arts actioner has cumed $14.7 million.

Overseas please

“Heaven,” like other recent ancient epics “Alexander,” “King Arthur” and “Troy,” did much better overseas, with $56 million from around 100 territories that opened day and date. R-rated Orlando Bloom starrer carried a $130 million production pricetag, of which Fox is exposed to around $80 million. In the U.S. studio unspooled the pic at 3,216 locations.

Fox distrib prexy Bruce Snyder put a positive spin on the opening and highlighted the worldwide total opening of $76 million. “It’s the high end of our expectations. It’s a very satisfying start for the film.”

According to studio exit polls, pic’s opening aud skewed older, with 66% over age 25. The aud was slightly more male at 52%.

Warners distrib topper Dan Fellman also sounded good notes on the debut for “Wax,” produced by Joel Silver and Robert Zemeckis’ Dark Castle Entertainment. “The (audience) reaction to ‘Wax’ exceeded previous Dark Castle films so we should do fine at the box office.”

Demographics on the pic showed that it was strongest among young women, with 56% of the aud for the R-rated pic under 21 and 55% female.

Lions Gate exec VP Steven Rothenberg said the “Crash” debut emboldened the studio’s plan of playing the pic as an alternative for adults through the early portion of the summer season.

“The exit polling shows we’re going to have very good word of mouth. Our strategy is to have the film as good counterprogramming to the youth-oriented fare through the next three or four weeks,” he said.

Another weak week

Box office has been limping for nearly three months now. This weekend marks the 11th straight frame in which 2005 numbers have failed to match the year-earlier figure. The last time box office failed to improve on the previous year’s number for so long was in 2000.

This weekend was also the fifth in a row that total business has been below $100 million — the longest such streak since 2001 during the traditionally slow months of September and October.

In fact, this past weekend is even 8% lower than last weekend’s soft session, when “Hitchhiker’s Guide” and “XXX” bowed.

Year to date, total box office is 7% behind 2004, with $2.582 billion so far. While two more big titles are on tap this Friday — U’s Will Ferrell starrer “Kicking & Screaming” and New Line’s Jennifer Lopez-Jane Fonda laffer “Monster-in-Law” — many in the industry are putting their hopes on Fox’s “Star Wars — Episode III: Revenge of the Sith” to reignite biz with its May 19 debut.

‘Skin’ is in

In the limited arena, Tartan and TLA Releasing saw “Mysterious Skin,” the latest film from Gregg Araki, debut strongly with $17,550 from a single screen at Gotham’s Film Forum.

IFC Films’ “Brothers” opened with $7,692 from two screens for an average of $3,846. Laemmle/Zeller unspooled baseball fan doc “Up for Grabs” on two screens in Gotham and drew $2,380, an average of $1,190.

MGM reported that Martin Short’s “Jiminy Glick in La La Wood” bowed with $22,000 from 24 screens, an average of $917 per engagement.

Among holdovers, Fine Line’s “The Holy Girl” continued to play strongly in its second week, with $26,000 from two screens, bringing cume to $67,000.

Roadside Attractions’ “Ladies in Lavender” rang up $126,100 from 26 screens in its second week. Averaging $4,850 per screen, it has now cumed $340,770.

Magnolia’s doc “Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room” found $425,000 in its third week. Playing 98 screens, it averaged $4,337; cume is $1.1 million.

Samuel Goldwyn and Roadside’s “Walk on Water,” now in its 10th week, continues to leg it out with $108,000 from 45 screens, an average of $2,400. Cume stands a hair below $1.5 million.

Sony Pictures Classics’ “Look at Me” grossed $141,171 in its sixth week, averaging $2,393 on its 59 screens. Cume is $984,426. Label’s “3-Iron” grossed $29,194 from 19 screens in its second week, averaging $1,537 and lifting cume to $58,030.