Audiences sink teeth into ‘Night’

Sony's vampire film takes bite of box office

Sony’s vampire pic “30 Days of Night” easily won the weekend at the domestic box office, grossing an estimated $16 million from 2,855 locations. Among wide contenders with awards aspirations, Ben Affleck’s feature directorial debut “Gone Baby Gone” did the best among new players, while holdover “Michael Clayton” gained ground.

Overall, though, films had trouble sucking much blood out of theaters, where business remained down despite a record-breaking number of wide releases. New Line’s post-9/11-themed “Rendition” saw a disappointing bow, confirming that politically minded films are a tough sell.

“Rendition,” starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Meryl Streep and Reese Witherspoon, came in No. 9 with an estimated gross of $4.2 million from 2,250 runs for a per-location average of $1,856, according to Rentrak.

Across the board, R-rated adult dramas are having the hardest time, all targeting the same aud and leaving room for lighter fare to score some action, as did the re-release of holiday family pic “Tim Burton’s Nightmare Before Christmas in Disney 3-D” or Fox Atomic’s sports spoof “The Comebacks.”

Halle Berry-Benicio Del Toro starrer “Things We Lost in the Fire,” about a widow who befriends a heroin addict, couldn’t even crack the top 10 films in its bow, marking the second disappointing opening this month for a DreamWorks film after Farrelly brothers comedy “The Heartbreak Kid.” Coming in No. 15, “Fire” grossed an estimated $1.6 million from 1,142 theaters for a per-screen average of $1,405, according to Rentrak.

Proving much more palatable were holdovers “Tyler Perry’s Why Did I Get Married?” from Lionsgate and Disney’s family laffer “The Game Plan,” which easily beat out new entrants in taking the No. 2 and No. 3 pots, respectively.

“Married,” from Lionsgate, declined 43% in its second frame to an estimated $12 million from 2,034 theaters for a cume of $38.9 million and a per-screen average of $5,949. It’s the best hold of Perry’s films.

“I think it shows that Tyler is broadening his appeal,” said Lionsgate distribution topper Steve Rothenberg, adding that the studio will release Perry’s next pic, “Meet the Browns,” over the Easter frame next year on March 21.

“Game Plan,” the surprise success story of October, declined just 26% in its fourth frame to an estimated $8.1 million from 3,301 locations for a cume of $69.1 million and per-screen average of $2,460.

Warner Bros.’ George Clooney starrer “Michael Clayton” came in No. 4 in its second weekend in wide release. Film declined just 32% to an estimated gross of $7.1 million from 2,585 theaters for a per-screen average of $2,747.

“What’s starting to take place is that good word-of-mouth is building our awareness, and will help us extend the box office run well into the end of the year and awards season,” Warners prexy of distribution Dan Fellman said.

The race for the No. 5 spot was a close one between “Gone” and “Comebacks,” which performed solidly despite no reviews and a relatively targeted marketing campaign aimed at younger males.

“Gone” grossed an estimated $6 million from 1,713 theaters for a per location average of $3,503.

Atomic’s “Comebacks,” rated PG-13 and starring David Koechner, grossed an estimated $5.8 million from 2,812 runs for a per screen average of $2,080.

Miramax and Fox each put themselves at No. 5, although Rentrak reported “Gone” at No. 5 and “Comebacks” at No. 6. Question won’t be resolved until actual box office receipts come in today. Like Fox, the majority of other studios had “Comebacks” slightly ahead of “Baby” in their own internal estimates.

“We are in a crowded marketplace, and we beat our major competition. I think we are in a good place,” Miramax prexy Daniel Battsek said. “We have a long way to go, but I think people really respect the job Ben has done and the performances.

Critically acclaimed “Gone,” starring Casey Affleck, Ed Harris and Morgan Freeman, skewed more female, Batsek said.

“Comebacks” was the frame’s only new comedy.

“In a sea of adult fare, we should have smooth sailing ahead,” 20th Century Fox senior VP of distribution Chris Aronson said. “We went after and connected with our target audience.”

Younger males flocked in even greater numbers to Sony’s “30 Days,” directed by David Slade and toplining Ben Foster and Josh Hartnett. Pic’s perf proved that horror as a genre is far from being dead.

“The movie is really scary. It’s visceral and it’s in your face,” Sony prexy of distribution Rory Bruer said. “It was the type of movie that brought out the latenight crowd.”

Sony’s crime drama “We Own the Night,” starring Mark Wahlberg and Joaquin Phoenix, finished its second frame at No. 7, declining 49% to an estimated $5.5 million from 2,362 runs for a per-screen average of $2,329 and a cume of $19.8 million.

Disney’s family-skewing fare paid off sweetly over the frame. Bowing on only 564 screens, “Nightmare in 3-D” grossed an estimated $5.1 million for a boffo per-screen average of $9,122, far outpacing the per-location average of any other wide release. That put Burton’s ghoulish film at No. 8 for the frame.

On Saturday, Disney also held sneak previews of offbeat Steve Carell comedy “Dan In Real Life” in 800 theaters across the country. Studio said number of tickets sold was just under 70%. Film opens Friday.

New Line didn’t try to gloss over its disappointment at “Rendition,” saying that audiences don’t seem to have much of an appetite for films dealing with the politics of the post-9/11 world. Picture reportedly cost $30 million to produce.

Coming in No. 10 for the weekend was DreamWorks-Paramount’s holdover “Heartbreak Kid,” which grossed an estimated $3.9 million from 2,782 screens in its third frame for a cume of $32. 1 million.

The frame’s other two new wide openings were Christian-themed animated pic “The Ten Commandments,” which grossed a paltry $474,760 from 830 runs for a per-screen average of $572, and horror mystery “Sarah Landon and the Paranormal Hour,” which grossed $560,000 from 1,115 runs for a per-screen average of $503.

All told, there were eight new wide releases, a record, according to Nielsen EDI.