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‘District 9’ invades top of box office

Sony's alien pic beats out bevy of new releases

The weekend B.O. provided prima facie evidence that movies tailored to a specific demo can shine in the summer frame, which has historically been dominated by all-audience event pics.

Fueled by older males, Sony/TriStar’s sci-fi thriller “District 9” opened to a boffo $37 million from 3,049 theaters to win the weekend crown at the domestic B.O.

Movie was a sizable victory for Sony’s Worldwide Acquisitions Group, Sony’s marketing team, frosh filmmaker Neill Blomkamp and producer Peter Jackson. “District’s” opening is one more example of a pic generating strong biz this summer without big stars.

Coming in a handy No. 2 was Paramount holdover “G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra,” another male-driven film. “Cobra” dropped 59% to an estimated $22.5 million from 4,007 runs for a domestic cume of $98.8 million.

The distaff side of the multiplex was much the same story. Warner Bros./New Line’s “The Time Traveler’s Wife” opened to an estimated $19.2 million from 2,988 screens, one of the best showings ever for a romantic drama in any part of the year. Based on the bestselling book, film placed No. 3.

Coming in No. 4 was another chick pic, “Julie and Julia,” which declined 38% in its second sesh to an estimated $12.4 million for a cume of $43.7 million.

There’s little doubt the four movies left some money on the table because of the direct competition, but that wasn’t enough to dampen spirits.

Weekend overall was up a significant 15% over the same frame last year, when the marquee was dominated by star-driven or action-event titles, including Par’s “Tropic Thunder,” Warner Bros.’ “The Dark Knight” and George Lucas’ “Star Wars: The Clone Wars.”

Three other wide releases unspooled, including Disney’s “Ponyo,” from master Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki. Film grossed a respectable $3.5 million from 927 theaters to place No. 9.

Despite all the openers, August is also a time when studios tend to off-load titles. The weekend was no exception.

Paramount Vantage’s Jeremy Piven comedy “The Goods: Live Hard, Sell Hard” grossed an estimated $5.2 million from 1,838 theaters to come in No. 6 for the sesh.

Summit Entertainment and Walden Media’s music-driven teen comedy “Bandslam” was the clear odd man out. Film didn’t even open in the top 10, grossing an estimated $2.3 million from 2,121 theaters.

Making the top 10 instead was Fox Searchlight’s comedy “500 Days of Summer,” the most successful platform release of the year. Film grossed an estimated $3 million as it expanded to 1,048 runs for a per-location average of $2,886 for a cume of $18 million in its fifth week.

Overseas, the weekend spoils went to “G.I. Joe,” which grossed an estimated $26.2 million in its second frame from 7,039 runs in 49 territories for a cume of $91.5 million and a worldwide total of $190.5 million in its first 10 days. Results ensure that Par has created another film franchise.

Twentieth Century Fox’s “Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs” made big headlines in jumping the $600 million mark overseas, only the second Fox film to do so after “Titanic.” For the weekend, “Ice Age” grossed $11.2 million from 6,500 screens in 66 markets for a foreign cume of $600.7 million and worldwide total of $791.6 million.

Warner Bros.’ “The Hangover,” the surprise blockbuster of the summer, crossed the $400 million mark worldwide as it grossed an estimated $8 million from 3,000 runs in 50 markets for a worldwide tally of $400.7 million.

Disney’s “Up” remained a steady winner overseas, grossing $10.6 million from 3,096 runs in 22 markets for a cume of $128 million and worldwide total of $415 million.

Mouse House also continues to score with romantic comedy “The Proposal,” which grossed $6.2 million for the weekend for a foreign cume of $103.6 million.

Sony opened “District 9” in seven territories to strong results. Film grossed $7 million from 750 playdates in nine territories, led by Russia at $4.5 million. Ticket sales in Russia paced ahead of those for sci-fi pics “War of the Worlds” and “I Am Legend.”

In the U.S., “District 9” performed at the top of its class, opening bigger than such sci-fi titles as “Minority Report,” which had mega talent wattage in Steven Spielberg and Tom Cruise, and last summer’s “The Happening,” starring Mark Wahlberg and helmed by M. Night Shyamalan.

Like “Slumdog Millionaire,” “District 9” has the makings of a rags-to-riches story. Film marks the directing debut of Blomkamp, the South African filmmaker initially slated to direct “Halo” for Peter Jackson.

“District 9” didn’t have a home until Sony’s worldwide group, led by Peter Schlessel, picked up domestic and some international distribution rights from Bill Block’s sales company QED Intl. (Sony is handling English-language territories only overseas.)

Sci-fi can be a difficult genre, but “District 9” hit the sweet spot. South Africa-set actioner references apartheid, only this time it’s aliens facing discrimination. Sony/TriStar waged an impressive viral marketing campaign that included such tactics as plastering bus stops with signs saying non-humans aren’t welcome. Pickup cost is estimated at $30 million.

“It’s a very cool start for a very cool movie,” said Sony prexy of worldwide distribution Rory Bruer. “A lot of risk was taken, because it was a total unknown.”

Film skewed heavily male, or 64%. A full 57% were over the age of 25.

Of the audience turning out for “The Time Traveler’s Wife,” a full 76% were female.

“It’s just a great result, and will stay in the market for some time to come,” said Warners prexy of domestic distribution Dan Fellman.

Historically, female-driven fare has avoided August, but not this year. “The Time Traveler’s Wife” opened one week after “Julie and Julia” bowed to $20 million.

Fellman said interest in “Time Traveler’s Wife” was largely driven by the book by Audrey Niffenegger.

Among openers on the specialty side, Sony Pictures Classics got off to a solid start with music docu “It Might Get Loud,” which posted a per-location average of $14,400 as it grossed $101,078 from seven theaters in New York and L.A.

Holdover specialty pic “The Hurt Locker,” from Summit Entertainment, dipped 46% as it grossed $675,478 for a cume of $10.4 million.