‘Apocalypto’ kicks ‘Holiday,’ ‘Diamond’

Gibson's epic takes in $14.2 million

“Apocalypto” turned out to be one hell of a date movie.

Helped by couples who made up 82% of the pic’s Saturday audience — a number that surprised even tracking experts — Mel Gibson’s subtitled Mayan movie rose above the director’s recent off-set controversy to top the weekend’s domestic box office among plenty of competition.

Pic took in $14.1 million in 2,465 engagements for a per-screen average of $5,747.

That was enough to edge out Sony’s traditional romantic comedy “The Holiday,” from director Nancy Meyers, which opened at No. 2 with $13.5 million from 2,610 playdates. Starring Cameron Diaz, Jude Law, Kate Winslet and Jack Black, pic scored a per-screen average of $5,172.

In other new openers, Warner Bros. — which has been on a roll with its CG-animated “Happy Feet” — opened political adventure “Blood Diamond” in 1,910 engagements for a take of $8.5 million. Per-engagement average for the pic, about the mining of conflict diamonds in Sierra Leone, stood at $4,458.

Studio also sent out family pic “Unaccompanied Minors” in 2,775 playdates to bring in $6.2 million.

“Apocalypto” dug into “Diamond’s” shimmer as both pics aimed to draw primarily male auds. But Disney won the weekend by also bringing in more females than the studio had been anticipating. Before the weekend, a Mouse House rep had described “Apocalypto’s” demographic as “all male,” in part because of pic’s violent content.

“We see this as the blog conversation or water-cooler conversation of the week,” said Disney distribution head Chuck Viane of the pic’s crossover appeal. “This film is so creative, so fresh and different. There’s so much competition that in this marketplace you have to delineate yourself.”

Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ” bowed to $83 million-plus in 2004, after major studios snubbed the pic and Gibson went with an indie release. Project wound up grossing more than $370 million domestically.

“Apocalypto’s” appeal left “Diamond” flawed, and Warners’ domestic distribution head Dan Fellman said the tally for the pic — starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Connolly and Djimon Hounsou — was slightly less than the studio had been hoping.

But he added that Warners had purposely released the pic in a more limited run to start, and that biz would build through the holidays as awards nominations and critics’ best-of lists are unveiled.

“Holiday,” meantime, played to a primarily female aud, with 65% of its ticket sales from the fairer sex. Women over 25 made up most of that group, comprising 57% of “Holiday’s” biz. Meyers’ last pic, “Something’s Gotta Give,” opened to $16 million and a No. 1 ranking in December 2003; it went on to cume $124 million by April.

Traditionally that can be a tough demo to grab over the frame, as women over 25 tend to be prepping for the holidays. Sony feels the pic will have legs as its core aud continues to show up.

Gibson pic also possibly spelled bad news for New Line’s Christian-themed “The Nativity Story,” which fell to the No. 8 slot , taking in $5.5 million to raise its cume to $15.7 million in two weekends of release.

Away from the new releases, a pair of tough-hanging holdovers continued to perform well in the top five.

Warners’ “Happy Feet” landed in the No. 3 spot, taking in $12.7 million to bring its cume to $137.7 million in a month of release. Sony’s latest James Bond pic, “Casino Royale,” targeted $8.8 million off 3,161 to bring its cume to $129 million, good for the No. 4 spot.

Two holiday family pics also are holding on: Fox’s “Deck the Halls” earned $3.9 million off 2,766 to stuff its stocking with $30 million to date. And Disney’s “Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause” wrapped up $3.3 million off 1,487 to raise its total after six weeks to $77.2 million.

Disney’s Denzel Washington actioner “Deja Vu” also was still in the marketplace: Pic has taken in $53 million to date after grabbing $6 million in its most recent frame.

Top 10 pics powered just over $82.7 million at the domestic B.O., up from last frame’s $77 million when the top three were all holdovers.