‘Ice’ berg sinks rivals

'Meltdown' dominates

With a $34.5 million second weekend, “Ice Age: The Meltdown” froze out its rivals despite posting a 49% drop.

Slide is typical for a high-grossing event pic — “Meltdown” bowed to $68 million last weekend — but it’s the biggest second-weekend drop ever for a CGI family toon, except for those that premiered over Thanksgiving and had the benefit of Friday matinees.

Among the frame’s new pics, “The Benchwarmers” was the only strong opener. “Take the Lead,” “Lucky Number Slevin” and “Phat Girlz” all failed to impress.

Thanks largely to “Ice Age,” 2006 box office has moved into positive territory compared to the previous year, up 1% according to Nielsen EDI. Weekend was 30% ahead of the same sesh a year ago, when the soft $18 million debut of “Sahara” topped the B.O.

Compared to 2004, however, this year’s B.O. is still down 2%.

Drops in the mid-30s are typical for animated family films. The bigger decline for “Meltdown” may indicate a shift in the marketplace in a year jammed with a record-breaking number of toons.

The original “Ice Age” fell just 35% on its second weekend four years ago, coming in at $30 million after opening with $46.3 million.

Nonetheless, Fox can look forward to stronger weekdays as some tykes go on spring break this week. On Friday, however, Disney targets the same audience with “The Wild.”

“Ice Age: The Meltdown” averaged $8,692 at 3,969 locations. Cume is now $116.4 million.

Sony/Revolution’s “Benchwarmers” grossed a solid $20.5 million by drawing a surprisingly diverse crowd for a Happy Madison production, evenly split between men and women with 60% of the aud under 21.

Comedy had a per-play average of $6,261 at 3,274.

“Take the Lead” hoped to do as well with a diverse crowd, but fell behind with a primarily young female audience. New Line’s Antonio Banderas starrer grossed just $12.8 million at 3,009 for a per-play average of $4,246.

“Lucky Number Slevin,” distribbed by MGM for the Weinstein Co., did a so-so $7.1 million at 1,984. Josh Hartnett starrer was the first test of the Lion’s new strategy of opening indie pics wide for other financiers. Per-play average was $3,594.

“Phat Girlz” didn’t do much for Fox Searchlight, grossing just $3.1 million at 1,056 playdates. Average take was $2,936.

“V for Vendetta” has all but gone away, with the Warner pic taking in $3.4 million to take its cume to $62.3 million.

More than doubling its print count to 300, “Thank You for Smoking” stayed very healthy, sneaking into the top 10 with $2.4 million and averaging $8,000 per play. Cume is $6.3 million.

Satire goes wide to 1,000-plus playdates next week. Fox Searchlight previously planned to top out around 600, but upped that number as grosses have proved better than expected.

Smaller fare

In limited release, “Friends With Money” saw a very strong bow. Jennifer Aniston starrer grossed $636,681 at 28 theaters for an average of $22,739. Sony Pictures Classics is planning to take the Nicole Holofcener pic wide to about 800 plays in just two weeks, on April 21.

“The national press attention has been so great that we felt it should go wider quicker than normal,” said SPC co-prexy Michael Barker.

Brit import “On a Clear Day” didn’t do much for Focus, grossing just $19,329 at five theaters in its debut for a per-play take of $3,866.

Sundance favorite “Brick” did just so-so after a very strong bow. Expanding from two to 28 theaters, high school noir grossed $196,375, or $9,351 per theater. Cume is $313,637. Focus plans to expand pic slowly over the next several weeks.

ThinkFilm’s Passover comedy “When Do We Eat?” also had a weak bow, grossing just $146,356 at 48 locations in New York, L.A. and Miami, for $3,053 per play. Indie didn’t report grosses for Ray Romano docu “95 Miles to Go” on two screens in Gotham and L.A., indicating a poor performance.

IFC’s “I Am a Sex Addict” bowed to just $9,819 at two screens for an average of $4,910.