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Valentine hearts for Sony’s ‘Hitch’

Will power wins at box office

Will Smith brought the love and Sony got an early Valentine.

Sony beat its own record with “Hitch’s” $45.3 million debut, the biggest-ever opening for a romantic comedy. Pic, which started in 3,575 theaters, surpassed Sony’s $39.9 million bow for “50 First Dates” last year.

But to underscore just how well “Hitch” played, “50 First Dates” benefited from both Valentine’s Day falling on Saturday, which nearly doubled its Friday grosses, as well as Presidents Day on Monday, which normally helps Sunday grosses. With Valentine’s falling on a Monday this year, “Hitch” can expect to see heavier than normal traffic tonight.

Also notable, Sony locked down the top three places on the box office chart, with “Hitch” followed by “Boogeyman’s” $10.8 million in its second week and Revolution’s “Are We There Yet?” at $8.5 million in its fourth week. According to Sony, the last time that happened was in 1989 when Universal did it with “Sea of Love,” “Uncle Buck” and “Parenthood.”

“When you think of Will Smith, he’s always been one of the kings of action,” said Sony distrib prexy Rory Bruer, “but this guy can do anything.”

‘Boogeyman’ drops

“Boogeyman” was down 43% after its Super Bowl weekend launch and pushed its cume to $33.3 million. “There Yet?” was down a shallow 20% and the Ice Cube family laffer now has a cume of $61.6 million.

Also opening this frame was Disney toon “Pooh’s Heffalump Movie,” which opened with $6.1 million from 2,529 theaters, which was good for the No. 5 spot. Pic, produced by the Mouse House’s homevid animation unit was primarily produced for the DVD market.

Among the films debuting in limited release, Universal opened NC-17-rated doc “Inside Deep Throat” on 12 screens, scoring $91,368, averaging $7,614 per screen. U will widen the pic on Friday to 22 new markets.

‘Baby’ still healthy

Warner Bros.’ “Million Dollar Baby” led the Academy best picture nominees this weekend with $7.6 million in its ninth week, placing it fourth for the frame and boosting its cume to $45.1 million.

In the 17th week of its run, Fox Searchlight’s “Sideways” outgrossed “The Aviator” for the first time in its run. The Alexander Payne-helmed wine country yarn took in $4.8 million, a 2% improvement since last week even though its distrib pared its run by 167 screens.

Close behind was Miramax and Warners’ “The Aviator” with $4.6 million, which improved its cume to $82.3 million. Martin Scorsese’s pic now has the biggest gross among all the best pic nominees, edging past U’s “Ray,” which through this weekend has taken in $74.7 million.

“Finding Neverland” grossed $2.2 million from 1,198 locations over the frame, finishing at No. 13 for the frame. Johnny Depp starrer has a cume of $42.5 million after 14 weeks.

Noms boost ‘Hotel’

MGM and United Artists’ “Hotel Rwanda” continued to get a boost from its Oscar noms, picking up $2.1 million from 824 engagements and bringing its cume to $14.3 million.

Among other limited openings, Magnolia started martial arts pic “Ong Bak: The Thai Warrior” with $1.3 million from 387 screens, a steady average of $3,359 per screen.

Rialto’s reissue of Godard classic “Masculin feminin” saw $26,514 from its first two engagements, one each in Gotham and L.A., an average of $13,257.

Also seeing good results was the bow of Miramax’s “Bride and Prejudice” with $388,076 from 32 screens, giving it an average of $12,125 per playdate.

IFC’s “Nobody Knows” continued to play well in its second week, grossing $40,971 on five screens for an average of $8,194. Cume on the pic stands at $87,096.

Miramax’s “The Chorus,” in its fifth week, brought in $97,704 from 49 screens, boosting its cume to $2.6 million.

Overall, the box office was strong for the frame. Nielsen EDI estimated total biz at $121 million, which is down 2% from the three-day portion of last year’s Presidents Day weekend. Total box office so far in 2005 is $925 million, which is 9% ahead of 2004’s start.

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