Oscar worked its magic at the box office over the weekend, while “Hide and Seek” made a conspicuous debut.
Fox’s scare fest generated $22 million in ticket sales at 3,005 theaters over the frame.
Also obvious was the big bump for Oscar-nominated pics, including Warner Bros.’ “Million Dollar Baby,” which cashed in for $11.8 million in its first weekend of wide release and nabbed the No. 3 spot. Like other pics with multiple kudo noms, pic expanded aggressively on Friday, adding 1,863 engagements for a total of 2,010.
Hard to overlook was the lack of aud interest in the weekend’s only other wide release, R-rated frightener “Alone in the Dark.” Distribbed by Lions Gate, it scared up only $2.5 million from its 2,124 first runs. Lions Gate co-prexy Tom Ortenberg said distrib is just collecting a fee on the pic, after helmer Uwe Boll secured outside financing to cover both production and distribution costs.
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Holdover biz from last weekend looked strong, led by last week’s champ “Are We There Yet?” from Revolution and Sony. Ice Cube family laffer was down just 8% from its opening, to $17 million.
Durable holdovers rounded out the top five. Paramount’s “Coach Carter” scored $8 million in its third week, down 24%, bringing its cume to $53.6 million; it was followed by Universal’s titan “Meet the Fockers,” down 22% in its sixth week, with a $7.6 million gross lifting its cume to $257.9 million.
All holdovers were boosted in part by the fact that last weekend’s grosses were lower than normal due to the blizzard affecting much of the eastern half of the country. This weekend, distribs said, biz was depressed by more winter weather in the Southeast, although not as many large markets were shut down as last weekend.
Reflecting how modest drops were this weekend, the steepest decline was for Rogue’s “Assault on Precinct 13,” which dropped a relatively small 35% to $4.2 million. Still, that perf lowered it to 10th place.
Other Oscar-nommed pics that surged this weekend included “The Aviator,” from Miramax and Warners, which got a 55% bump and sixth place with a $7.5 million gross. Miramax had padded its run to 2,503 engagements after it was cited 11 times by the Academy last Tuesday.
Also boosted was Fox Searchlight’s “Sideways,” which jumped to $6.3 million, a 122% increase from the previous weekend. Distrib expanded it by nearly 1,000 screens to a total of 1,694.
“Hide and Seek,” produced on a $30 million budget, joins a crop of thrillers over the past year that have been driven primarily by young female auds. Fox distrib prexy Bruce Snyder said exit surveys found the aud to be 57% female and 57% under age 25.
“It skewed younger female, and that’s probably why it exceeded our expectations,” he said.
Snyder also credited the draw of Robert De Niro, who toplined with Dakota Fanning, for the strong opening.
Sony distrib chief Rory Bruer noted “Are We There Yet” held well even where weather wasn’t a factor in the opening.
“In the areas where we didn’t have (bad) weather last weekend, our drop would have been in the 20s,” he said.
“It’s playing broadly to all audiences,” he added. “If it had opened to $17 million, we would have been thrilled.”
Warners’ distrib exec VP Jeff Goldstein said studio polls on “Million Dollar Baby” found the expansion aud skewed slightly to adult women, with 55% over age 35 and 55% female.
Miramax distrib head Mike Rudnitsky noted “Aviator” seems to have been given new life by the awards noms. “We’re cautiously optimistic that this picture can get to $100 million,” he said, from a cume now at $68.2 million.
Searchlight distrib chief Steve Gilula is equally pleased with the Oscar noms bump for “Sideways,” especially since the pic is in its 15th week of release.
Miramax’s “Finding Neverland” was up 121% to $2.7 million, bringing its cume to $35.9 million, while U’s “Ray” was up 103% to $559,000. The Ray Charles biopic is on the tail end of its run, with the DVD skedded for release Tuesday. Pic has cumed $73.8 million.
Oscar pics still in relatively limited release did well over the weekend as well. MGM and United Artists’ “Hotel Rwanda” had its best weekend of its run, grossing $1.8 million on an expanded 417 screens, an average of $4.316.
Sony Pictures Classics’ “Being Julia,” boosted to 135 screens, pulled in $300,175, an average of $2,224.
Fine Line’s “Vera Drake,” playing on 68 screens, pulled in $71,500, an average of $1,051.
Overall, Nielsen EDI estimated the frame’s total biz at $117 million, a 22% improvement over the same weekend last year. The Super Bowl, which tends to depress biz, fell during the comparison frame, however.