‘Game Plan’ wins weekend

Disney film rules over Universal's 'Kingdom'

Walt Disney Pictures came up with the winning play at the weekend box office as its comedy “The Game Plan” filled a void in the marketplace for family fare and easily grabbed the keys to the palace from Universal’s Middle Eastern action-thriller “The Kingdom.”

“Game Plan,” toplining Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and sporting a kid-friendly PG rating, exceeded expectations in grossing an estimated $22.7 million from 3,103 runs, according to Rentrak. Pic is the first greenlit by studio prexy Oren Aviv to be released.

Director Peter Berg’s R-rated “Kingdom” grossed an estimated $17.7 million from 2,792 runs in a respectable opening at the lower end of expectations. Film, starring Jamie Foxx, Chris Cooper, Jennifer Garner and Jason Bateman, could be an early bellwether of whether general auds are ready to see films addressing the consequences of the war on terror.

“Kingdom” and “Game Plan” got off to a close start Friday, but “Game Plan” saw a whopping 63% jump in attendance from Friday to Saturday vs. a 16% bump for “Kingdom.”

Weekend’s other wide opener, MGM-Lakeshore’s “The Feast of Love,” struggled to cook up an aud, grossing an estimated $1.7 million from 1,200 runs. “Feast” couldn’t crack the top 10, coming in at No. 11 and leaving plenty of room for holdovers to maneuver — some better than others.

While the overall domestic box office is running 9.2% up over 2002, the best year on record, much of September’s theater traffic has been sluggish compared to the boom days of summer.

The weekend was down 7% vs. the same frame last year, when “Open Season,” “The Guardian” and “Jackass: Number Two” led.

In sheer dollar amounts this weekend, “Game Plan” and “Kingdom” enjoyed most of the spoils. Sony-Screen Gems’ “Resident Evil: Extinction” dropped a steep 66% in its second frame to $8 million, putting it at No. 3. Cume is $36.8 million.

Lionsgate’s R-rated laffer “Good Luck Chuck,” starring Dane Cook and Jessica Alba, dipped 54% in its second frame to $6.3 million, placing No. 4; cume is $23.6 million.

Disney prexy of distribution Chuck Viane said auds were ready for a family title like “Game Plan” after R-rated pics dominated the marquee for six straight weekends.

“Game Plan” perf is an affirmation of Aviv’s emphasis on family titles and, drawing upon his days as marketing honcho, films with ready-made hooks.

In the case of director Andy Fickman’s comedy, a big hook was Johnson, who plays a superstar football player and career bachelor who discovers he has a daughter. Pic marked his second best opening, after “The Scorpion King,” which bowed to $36.1 million in 2002.

“Everybody always underestimates the potential of the general-audience movie. And you have to give the Rock a lot of credit,” Viane said. “Audiences bought the idea of a comedy, and then they loved the movie.”

Universal waged an aggressive marketing assault for “Kingdom,” holding sneak peeks at 850 theaters two weeks ago and running TV spots featuring music from Kanye West and U2.

Film, produced by Berg, Michael Mann and Scott Stuber, is among the first of a crop of films dealing with the Iraq war and the Mideast. Pic follows an FBI team in Saudi Arabia trying to track down a terrorist who orchestrated a massive attack killing Americans working in the country.

“For a movie with such a challenging, tough subject matter, I think we did a solid number. I think it’s a respectable opening,” Universal prexy of distribution Nikki Rocco said.

“I would be remiss if I said we didn’t look for bigger numbers, but all of us believe in this movie and the filmmakers. And the exit polls were high,” Rocco said.

Foxx starred in another Iraq-related pic, 2005’s “Jarhead,” which opened to $27.7 million. As for actioners, Foxx last starred in “Miami Vice,” which opened at $25.7 million.

Warner Bros.’ Jodie Foster starrer “The Brave One” — another serious-minded title — fell to No. 6 in its third frame, grossing an estimated $3.8 million from 2,837 runs for a cume of $30.9 million. The R-rated vigilante drama was directed by Neil Jordan and produced by Joel Silver.

With the commencement of awards season and a crowded fall release calendar, films that have trouble gaining quickly, like “Brave One,” could get lost.

“There is too much sophisticated adult fare,” one studio exec said.

One film that’s been able to establish a foothold and keep going is James Mangold’s Western remake “3:10 to Yuma,” starring Russell Crowe, Christian Bale and Ben Foster. The Lionsgate-Relativity Media oater grossed an estimated $4.2 million from 3,006 theaters over the weekend in its fourth frame, putting it at No. 5. It has landed in the top five each weekend after scoring one of the best openings ever for an R-rated Western. Cume is $43.9 million.

“Yuma” is one of a pair of oaters vying for awards attention this fall.

Warner Bros. is going more slowly with “The Assassination of Jesse James by Coward Robert Ford,” starring Brad Pitt and Casey Affleck. Pic stayed put at five runs over the weekend in its second frame, declining 38% to an estimated gross of $92,000 for a per-screen average of $18,455 and cume of $300,386. Pic will expand to an additional eight markets this coming weekend.

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