Masked man’s mixed message

Thriller 'Vendetta' nabs $26m in U.S.

“V for Vendetta” was victorious at the box office, though its solid $26.1 million take was a bit softer than many had hoped.

Many had been looking for Warners’ adaptation of the classic comicbook to open as high as $30 million, which would have potentially made it the biggest debut of the year, ahead of “Madea’s Family Reunion.” Instead, “V,” written and produced by the Wachowskis, opened a bit behind their original “Matrix,” which made $27.8 million six years ago.

Teen comedy “She’s the Man” bowed about where expected at $11 million, while “Thank You for Smoking” had a spectacular limited debut, grossing $260,000 at five theaters.

For the fifth weekend in a row, box office was down compared with 2005, this time at a substantial 9%.

“V,” the first pic WB has co-financed with investment fund Virtual Studios, averaged $7,767 per theater at 3,365 locations. Aud was 60% male but, surprisingly, was evenly split between men under and over 25, playing a little older than anticipated.

NCAA basketball tournament made the frame a little tougher for “V” with its core male aud. WB is hoping the start of spring break will give the pic more opportunity to play with younger men, though the bow of cop drama “Inside Man” next weekend will provide direct competish.

“We’re very pleased, especially with so many males distracted by March Madness,” WB distrib topper Dan Fellman said. “The exits are very comparable to the first ‘Matrix’ and we’re well positioned amid college spring break.”

“Twelfth Night” adaptation “She’s the Man” rode a primarily young female aud to average $4,198 at 2,623 theaters. Bow was in line with last Amanda Bynes starrer, “What a Girl Wants,” which made $11.4 million in April 2003. It’s the final pic to go out with DreamWorks’ named as the sole studio, though it was released by Par’s new distrib group headed by DreamWorks alums.

Disney’s family movies continue to show spectacular legs, as “The Shaggy Dog,” fell just 17% from it’s so-so bow, grossing $13.6 million in third place. Tim Allen starrer took an average of $3,891 at 3,501 playdates. Cume is $35.9 million.

Par’s “Failure to Launch” fell only 35% in its second strong weekend, grossing $15.8 million in second place. Romantic comedy averaged $5,074 at $3,117 locations and has cumed $48.5 million.

“Thank You for Smoking” is the first big limited bow of the year. Satire’s $52,013 per-play take at five theaters in Gotham, Los Angeles and D.C. is the record thus far for the year. Fox Searchlight expands the pic to about 50 playdates in seven more cities Friday and will open it wide April 7.

Yari Film Group’s “Find Me Guilty” found a very unsympathetic jury; the Sidney Lumet-helmed mob story debuted at 439 plays and grossed just $628,000, or $1,431 per. It’s the weakest bow ever for a Vin Diesel starrer.

Sony Pictures Classics opened Wim Wenders’ “Don’t Come Knocking” to a so-so $32,526 at six theaters, averaging $5,421 per play.

Par Classics’ noir “Ask the Dust” didn’t scare up much more business as it expanded from seven to 77 theaters. Robert Towne-helmed pic grossed $210,751, or $2,737 per play, bringing its cume to $302,243.

Miramax added 27 playdates for foreign language Oscar winner “Tsotsi” and grossed at $330,000 at 57 theaters, or $5,789 per. Cume for the well-reviewed South African pic is $892,000.

Italian Oscar nominee “Don’t Tell,” was a much weaker contender, grossing only $14,000 at five theaters, or $2,800 per play, for Lionsgate.

ThinkFilm debuted crime thriller “The Zodiac” to just $20,847 at 10 playdates for an average of $2,085.

For the year, box office is down 2% against 2005, according to Nielsen EDI.