U makes B.O. noise

'Fockers' tops 'White'-hot thriller

There was a little bit of the expected and unexpected for Universal over the weekend.

“Meet the Fockers” unsurprisingly continued its huge run, crossing the $200 million mark with a frame-leading $28.5 million. Laffer sequel was down just 32% — an impressive hold of its record-setting New Year’s weekend.

“White Noise,” produced and financed by Gold Circle and distribbed by U in the U.S., opened to a much bigger-than-anticipated $24.0 million in the No. 2 position. Michael Keaton thriller played in 2,261 North American theaters. TVA Films is handling distribution in Canada.

“Noise” is now the biggest opener for the first weekend of the year, topping the $16.6 million for the wide release of “A Beautiful Mind” on Jan. 4, 2002. For the whole month of January, “Noise” is the second-biggest three-day opening, behind the 1997 re-release of “Star Wars,” which collected $35.9 million.

Several limited pics attempted aggressive expansions over the weekend. Leading the pack was Warners’ “Million Dollar Baby,” which picked up a little more than $2 million from 109 screens, an expansion of 100. Screen average was a very buff $18,440; cume on the Clint Eastwood-helmed boxing drama is a tad below $3.2 million.

MGM and United Artist successfully expanded “Hotel Rwanda,” which grossed $1.15 million from 105 screens, an addition of 98. Pic averaged $10,952 per screen and pushed cume to $1.65 million.

Miramax and Warner Bros.’ “The Aviator” landed in the No. 3 spot with $7.6 million in its fourth week or release. Cume is $42.9 million.

Close behind at No. 4 was Paramount’s “Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events,” with $7.4 million. Also in its fourth frame, the dark Jim Carrey kidpic has cumed $105.5 million.

Finishing the top five, 20th Century Fox’s “Fat Albert” saw $6.0 million in its third week. Cume on the 1970s toon adaptation is $41.3 million.

U distrib chief Nikki Rocco noted that “Fockers” and “Noise” gave the studio a nearly 50% market share of the weekend.

“Fockers” became the sixth-highest-grossing film released last year (and only the sixth film to gross more than $200 million), surpassing Fox’s “The Day After Tomorrow” ($186.7 million domestic) and U’s “The Bourne Supremacy” ($176.2 million).

Exit polls showed the aud for the PG-13-rated “Noise” was 67% under age 25 and 58% female.

A lively afterlife

Despite poor reviews, the afterlife thriller had been tracking strongly at the end of last week. Even so, the opening was well above the mid-teens estimate many in the industry had made for its debut.

Asked why it beat expectations, Rocco replied, “There’s been a lack of product in the market for this particular core audience.”

“Noise” is the first pic under Gold Circle and U’s first-look distrib pact.

“We tried to make a fun popcorn movie,” said Gold Circle’s Paul Brooks.

The strong perfs started off 2005 on a quick pace. Nielsen EDI estimates total box office for the frame at $118 million — 11% better than the first weekend of 2004, when the top film was “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” with $28.1 million.

Among the other expanding limited pics, Newmarket’s “The Woodsman” continued its steady run. Adding 21 new engagements in its third week, the Kevin Bacon starrer pulled in $144,000 over the weekend, averaging $4,235 on its 34 screens. Cume is $384,000.

Thinkfilm’s “The Assassination of Richard Nixon,” on 32 screens in its second week, pulled in $81,900 for the weekend, an average of $2,559. Cume on the Sean Penn starrer is $384,000.

New Line had a disappointing expansion for “Birth,” now in its 11th week. Following Nicole Kidman’s Golden Globe nomination, distrib widened pic from just five venues to 453 but saw results of only $242,000, an average of $542 per screen.

No sex appeal

Fox Searchlight’s “Kinsey” saw less-than-stellar results as it widened to 588 locations, an expansion of 360. Over the weekend, sexologist biopic grossed $800,000, an average of $1,361 per screen. Cume is $7.8 million.

Universal’s “In Good Company” continued to play well on its first three screens. Pic grossed $148,000 for the frame, an average of $49,333, which is down only slightly from the opening last week.

Sony Pictures Classics’ sophomore “The Merchant of Venice” grossed $51,600 on four screens, averaging $12,900 and boosting cume to $171,000. Distrib’s Pedro Almodovar-helmed “Bad Education” continued its solid limited run. Over the weekend, its eighth, it grossed $249,000 on 42 screens, averaging $5,929. Cume is $2.1 million.

Sony Classics also saw “House of Flying Daggers” gross $576,000 in its sixth week, averaging $4,056 on 142 screens. Cume is $5 million.

Fox Searchlight’s “Sideways,” still playing in a relatively narrow 365 screens, grossed $2 million in its 12th week, averaging $5,479 per screen and lifting cume to $25.2 million.

Warner Independent Pictures’ “A Very Long Engagement” grossed $644,000 in its seventh week. Playing in 164 locations, pic averaged $3,927; cume is $3.6 million.

Lions Gate’s “Beyond the Sea” posted $1 million in its fourth week, averaging $2,611 on its 383 screens. Cume is $3.4 million.