‘Baby Mama’ tops box office

Universal comedy nabs No. 1 spot

Universal’s Tina Fey-Amy Poehler comedy “Baby Mama” was easily the No. 1 movie of the weekend, grossing an estimated $18.3 million from 2,543 theaters and giving the studio its first top opener of the year.

Chick flick had no problem reaching its intended demo; a whopping 68% of the aud was female.

Comedy overall was the success story of the frame, fueling a box office rebound just as summer tentpoles prepare to open. Weekend grosses were up a sizable 17.2% over the same sesh last year.

New Line/Warner Bros.’ R-rated stoner sequel “Harold & Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay” came in No. 2, grossing an estimated $14.6 million from 2,510 theaters on the strength of young men. U’s raunchy R-rated laffer “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” declined just 38% in its soph sesh to an estimated $11 million from 2,799; cume is $35 million.

Lionsgate’s Jet Li-Jackie Chan adventure-fantasy “Forbidden Kingdom” remained a worthy contender in its second sesh, narrowly edging out “Sarah Marshall” to take the No. 3 spot for the weekend. “Kingdom,” produced by Casey Silver and financed by Relativity Media, declined 48% in its second sesh to an estimated $11.2 million from 3,151. Cume for the movie that marks the first appearance of Li and Chan together on the bigscreen is $38.2 million.

“Forbidden Kingdom” and the Judd Apatow-produced “Sarah Marshall,” which placed No. 4, could switch places on the B.O. chart when final weekend numbers are posted today.

The weekend’s other new wide release, “Deception,” fared dismally. Produced by Arnold Rifkin and distributed by 20th Century Fox, the Hugh Jackman-Ewan McGregor thriller grossed a meager $2.2 million from 2,001 runs to place No. 10.

“Baby Mama,” rated PG-13 and also starring Greg Kinnear, scored the second-best opening for a romantic comedy in April after “13 Going on 30,” underscoring the popularity of Fey and Poehler, who worked together on “Saturday Night Live.” “Baby Mama,” about the politics of surrogate motherhood and the maternal urge, is only the second live-action studio pic that Fey has starred in, after “Mean Girls,” which she also penned. Michael McCullers wrote and directed “Baby Mama.”

“I think Tina Fey and Amy Poehler were the big draw. The marketing campaign said to auds, ‘You are going to be entertained,’ ” said Universal prexy of distribution Nikki Rocco.

Both younger and older females turned out, with 45% of the audience under age 25. Pic cost $30 million to produce.

“American Gangster,” released in November, was the last Universal movie to open at No. 1.

It is unusual for a studio to open two comedies back to back. U said the drop of 38% for “Sarah Marshall” shows that it wasn’t hurt by the entry of “Baby Mama” or vice versa. “Sarah Marshall” appealed to men more than “Baby Mama.”

Among Apatow’s raunchy romantic comedies, “Sarah Marshall” had a better hold than “Superbad,” which declined 45% in its second weekend last summer, and was down only slightly more than “Knocked Up,” which declined 36% in its soph sesh last summer. “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” declined only 24%.

“There is always room for good entertainment. ‘Sarah Marshall’ had a great hold, considering the competition. I think it’s the beginning of people getting into the moviegoing mode. We had 40% of the market share this weekend, which is nice for any studio,” Rocco said.

But studio execs elsewhere say it’s anyone’s guess as to how much more B.O. biz “Sarah Marshall” or “Baby Mama” might be doing if they were playing solo on the marquee. On May 2, Sony bows romantic comedy “Made for Honor” in a counter-programming move against Paramount summer tentpole “Iron Man,” creating even more competish for female eyeballs.

While “Baby Mama” got the women, “Harold & Kumar” worked magic with younger males. Men 18-35 made up 65% of the pic’s aud. Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg wrote and directed, while John Cho and Kal Penn starred.

Sequel is destined to outpace the domestic B.O. performance of “Harold & Kumar go to White Castle,” which cumed roughly $18 million. “White Castle,” however, went on to become a sleeper hit on DVD, prompting New Line to pursue a second installment.

“Guantanamo Bay,” which cost $12 million to produce, is the first New Line title distributed by Warner Bros. since New Line was disbanded as a studio and made a label within the Warners empire.

“New Line was very smart in making this movie. When the merger came through, we did the campaign and we increased the spend,” said Warners prexy of domestic distribution Dan Fellman. “We are glad the first New Line release worked out so well and that the transition is going so smoothly.”

Twentieth Century Fox senior VP of distribution Bert Livingston said the studio was disappointed in the results for “Deception.” Pic also stars Michelle Williams.

On the specialty side, Samuel Goldwyn Films’ French drama “Roman de gare” scored a per-screen average of $12,773, grossing an estimated $25,454 from two locations in Gotham and L.A.

ThinkFilm’s dramedy “Then She Found Me,” directed by and starring Helen Hunt, posted a per-screen average of $8,226 in grossing an estimated $74,395 from nine theaters in L.A. and Gotham.

Errol Morris’ docu “Standard Operating Procedure,” about the Abu Ghraib prison scandal, grossed an estimated $14,916 from two theaters for a per-screen average of $7,458.

Overture holdover “The Visitor” continued to play strongly as it expanded to 76 theaters, grossing an estimated $508,000 for a per-screen average of $6,684. Pic showed a 100% Friday-to-Saturday increase.

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