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‘Twilight’ takes bite out of box office

Teen vampire romance pic drains competition

Fangirls of all ages scored their biggest box office victory yet in delivering a $70.6 million opening for Summit Entertainment’s teen vampire romance “Twilight” at the domestic box office.

Based on Stephenie Meyer’s bestselling book series, “Twilight” is a ready-made film franchise, and the opening reps a resounding victory for the relatively new Summit, which didn’t even wait for the weekend to finish before announcing plans for sequel “New Moon.”

A $70 million opening is generally reserved for family pics or fanboy fare. “Twilight,” playing in 3,419 runs, tied with “The Incredibles” for the fourth best November bow after three “Harry Potter” pics. Gross is the highest ever for a female director and also beats the $57 million debut of “Sex and the City” in May.

The competition didn’t stand a chance against “Twilight.” Disney 3-D toon “Bolt” opened below expectations as older girls and moms made “Twilight” their first choice.

“Bolt,” grossing an estimated $27 million from 3651 runs, ended the weekend in a virtual tie with James Bond holdover “Quantum of Solace,” which grossed an estimated $27.4 million from 3,458 for a 10-day cume of $109.5 million, according to Rentrak.

Sony/MGM’s “Quantum,” like other holdovers, saw steep declines due, at least in part, to “Twilight.” Bond pic fell 59% from opening weekend, far more than predecessor “Casino Royale.” But Sony’s hardly complaining; through Sunday, “Quantum’s” worldwide total was $418 million.

Other studios may have been envious of Summit’s win, but the overriding emotion was relief at the sheer volume of theater traffic despite the economy. Frame was up as much as 68% over last year, when the weekend before Thanksgiving saw the debut of “Beowulf.”

Even the specialty side had bragging rights as “The Boy in the Striped Pajamas” landed in the top 10 for the first time, and Fox Searchlight’s “Slumdog Millionaire” clocked in with a boffo per-location average of $31,050 in its second sesh.

For Summit, “Twilight” brought good fortune from the beginning. Project landed at the company after MTV Films passed on it, while Fox Atomic also refused to bite. Conventional wisdom says that female-driven properties aren’t always the safest bet.

In more good news for Summit, Warner Bros. moved “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince,” which was supposed to open on Nov. 21, to July 17. Summit and Disney quickly moved “Twilight” and “Bolt,” respectively, onto that date.

Summit also kept costs down by hiring a relatively unknown cast and keeping costly special effects to a minimum. “Twilight” reportedly cost $37 million to produce. At that price, pic’s profit margin will be substantial.

“Quite frankly, as we journeyed on this road, from the inception to

Comic-Con to announcing we were moving from December, it became a perfect storm,” Summit prexy of distribution Richard Fay said.

“It’s clear that none of this would have happened had it not been for the incredible popularity of Stephenie Meyer’s books,” Fay added. “Being an old English major, it’s good to know that kids still read.”

Meyer’s four books have sold more than 17 million copies worldwide, including more than 8 million in the U.S. The most avid fans are tween and teenage girls, but women are part of the mix too.

According to Summit, 75% of the audience were females. The surprise came in that 45% of the audience was over age 25.

In marketing the pic, Summit reached out to boys by emphasizing the movie’s action and vampire lore. “Twilight” played well nationwide, but the biggest-grossing theaters were in Utah. (Meyer is Mormon).

By Friday morning, it became clear that “Twilight” would log a bigger opening than originally predicted. Thursday night midnight ticket sales clocked in at $7 million for a total Friday haul of $35.9 million. Mirroring “Sex and the City,” “Twilight” saw a significant Friday-to-Saturday drop, or 43%. Both pics generated enormous advance ticket sales.

Those who did turn up for “Bolt” gave the toon top grade. Pic saw a 66% increase from Friday to Saturday.

Mouse House expects “Bolt” to do well over the long Thanksgiving weekend as “Twilight” fervor dies down.

“It’s one of the busiest times of the year for family moviegoing,” Disney prexy of domestic distribution Chuck Viane said.

“Bolt” played on more than 900 3-D screens, the biggest count yet for a 3-D title. Those auditoriums did more than two times the business that conventional theaters did.

Still, “Bolt” is far down the list in terms of openings for animated films. Earlier this month, DreamWorks Animation/Paramount’s sequel “Madagascar: Return 2 Africa” debuted to $63.1 million. Among original toons, “Bee Movie” opened to $38 million in November 2007.

“Bolt” did beat the $25.1 million opening of Disney toon “Meet the Robinsons,” which cumed $97.8 million domestically.

“Madagascar” sequel, coming in No. 4 for the weekend, fell 54% in its third sesh, grossing an estimated $16 million from 4,007 runs for a cume of $137 million. Pic’s decline — more than usual for a family film — reflected the entry of “Twilight” and “Bolt.”

Elsewhere on the top 10 chart, Universal took the Nos. 5 and 6 spots with comedy “Role Models” and Clint Eastwood’s “Changeling,” respectively.

A sleeper hit, “Role Models” declined only 35% in its third weekend to an estimated $7.2 million from 2,733 runs for a cume of $48 million.

“Changeling” declined 38% to an estimated $2.6 million from 1,739; cume is $31.6 million.

Fox Searchlight’s “The Secret Life of Bees” kept buzzing away, declining 45% to an estimated $1.3 million from 1,095 runs for a cume of $35.7 million in its sixth week.

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