'Blades' vanquishes 'Grindhouse' at boxoffice

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Moviegoers stuck with the familiar during the Easter holiday weekend: "Blades of Glory" and "Meet the Robinsons," the previous weekend's top two, once more rose to the top at the North American boxoffice, while Ice Cube's comedy sequel "Are We Done Yet?" received the warmest reception of the weekend's newcomers.

The R-rated "Grindhouse," with a running time of more than three hours, provided the biggest surprise of the weekend. The exercise in low-rent, '70s nostalgia from directors Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino had been expected by many to dominate the frame, but the Weinstein Co.'s Dimension Films release opened at a tepid No. 4, attracting just $11.6 million. Rounding out the new releases, the horror pic "The Reaping" took fifth place with $10.1 million, while 20th Century Fox's family movie "Firehouse Dog" snuck into 10th place with just $4 million.

"It was one of those great weekends for incumbents," Buena Vista Pictures Distribution president Chuck Viane observed.

Buoyed by strong holdovers, overall business for the top 10 films was up nearly 9% over the comparable weekend last year, when 20th Century Fox's "Ice Age: The Meltdown," in its second weekend, dominated the charts with $33.8 million, while Sony Pictures' "The Benchwarmers" and New Line Cinema's "Take the Lead" were the top two new releases.

The PG-13 "Blades," Paramount Pictures' release of the DreamWorks/MTV Films comedy starring Will Ferrell and Jon Heder, demonstrated definite stamina, falling just 30%. Its weekend take of an estimated $23 million, following strong daily showings during the week, brought its collective purse to $68.4 million.

"It's always great to have the No. 1 film two weeks in a row," DreamWorks spokesman Marvin Levy said, "but it only happens if you have a film that the audience is really enjoying." In its second weekend, the movie expanded to the over-25 audience, DreamWorks reported. "And we're in good shape to keep gliding along on our skates," Levy said of the comedy, produced by Ben Stiller's Red Hour Films and directed by Josh Gordon and Will Speck.

Playing to the family audience, Buena Vista's G-rated animated "Robinsons," directed by Stephen J. Anderson, hung in strongly as well, falling just 32%. Its estimated weekend take amounted to $17 million in 3,435 theaters, bringing its cume to $52.2 million.

Like "Blades," "Robinsons" took advantage of spring vacations and built during the week. It also is benefiting from more than 580 locations where it is playing in Read D 3-D. "3-D is important, and it helps the other runs," Viane said. "As the 3-D showings sell out, audiences go to the other digital screens offering the movie."

Sony's "Are We Done Yet?" from Revolution Studios served up the best opening among the newcomers, taking an estimated $15 million. The PG-rated comedy directed by Steve Carr, about a family renovating an old house, opened on Wednesday and grossed an estimated $19.1 million during its first five days. That put it in the same neighborhood as its 2005 predecessor "Are We There Yet?" which took in $18.6 million its opening weekend. "This was the sweet spot that we were looking for," Sony domestic distribution president Rory Bruer said, noting that 74% of the movie's audience consisted of families with young children.

It was another story for "Grindhouse," which occupied the fourth spot with an estimated $11.6 million. The film, with a reported budget of $53 million, played in 2,624 locations but came nowhere near other recent films from Tarantino and Rodriguez. Two years ago, Rodriguez's "Sin City" bowed to $29.1 million in 3,230 theaters, while Tarantino's "Kill Bill-Vol. 1" in 2003 and "Kill Bill-Vol 2" in 2004 launched to $22.1 million and $25.1 million respectively.

The film, which combines a zombie flick from Rodriguez with a demolition derby by Tarantino, picked up enthusiastic reviews from connoisseurs of down-and-dirty genre filmmaking, but didn't appear to reach beyond the two directors' hardcore fan base. "It's disappointing," Harvey Weinstein, co-head of the Weinstein Co., said. "It performed brilliantly in the East and the West, but not so good in the South. Market research that we did showed there was a resistance to the running time, but this is exactly what the boys wanted to do, reinvent the cinematic experience. It got such great reviews and such great scores, that it's baffling, and we're just going to have to educate the audience."

Weinstein added that because the two movies-within-a-movie -- Rodriguez's "Planet Terror" and Tarantino's "Death Proof"-- will play as separate films internationally, on cable and on DVD, the project's economic model would be vindicated since essentially the company would be fielding two $25 million movies by the two directors.

Warner Bros. Pictures' debut of the "Reaping," starring Hilary Swank as a religious skeptic encountering a series of biblical plagues, occupied the fifth spot. The R-rated horror movie, directed by Stephen Hopkins and produced by Joel Silver, among others, turned up an estimated three-day gross of $10.1 million, and because it opened on Thursday, its cumulative tally stands at $12 million. That put it in similar territory as other Dark Castle productions like 2005's "House of Wax," which bowed to $12.1 million.

20th Century Fox's PG-rated "Dog," directed by Todd Holland, the last of the weekend's new wide releases, had a rough time going up against the other family films, and so settled for an estimated $4 million. Since its opening on Wednesday, it has collected an estimated $5.3 million.

Rounding out the top 10: In sixth place, Warners' "300" fell just 23%, pulling in an estimated $8.8 million to bring its domestic tally to $193.8 million, as it closes in on the $200 million mark; in seventh place, Buena Vista's "Wild Hogs," falling just 21% in its sixth weekend, collared an estimated $6.8 million, which brings its purse to $145.5 million; in eighth place, Paramount's "Shooter" added an estimated $5.8 million to its haul of $36.7 million; and in ninth place, Warner's "TMNT" pickup up $4.9 million to bring its account to $46.7 million.

Among the limited releases, Miramax Films' "The Hoax," directed by Lasse Hallstrom and starring Richard Gere as Clifford Irving, bowed in 235 theaters to an estimated $1.5 million for a per-theater average of $6,387.

Sony Pictures Classics introduced Paul Verhoeven's World War II tale "Black Book" in nine theaters in New York and Los Angeles, where it collected $120,476 for a per-screen average of $13,386 and a cume-to-date of $144,989. The film will add dates in Chicago, Boston and San Francisco on Friday. ThinkFilm debuted Jake Kasdan's "The TV Set" in eight theaters to the tune of $40,200.

Meanwhile, Fox Searchlight's "The Namesake," widening steadily, added 98 theaters to bring its count to 335. It attracted an estimated $1.8 million, bringing its cume to $6.9 million.

For the week ending Thursday, total boxoffice amounted to $192.1 million, an increase of more than 5% over the comparable week in 2006, which pulled in $183.9 million. For the year to date, boxoffice stands at $2.2 billion, up more than 6% from 2006's $2.07 billion. Estimated admissions are up more than 2% over 2006 levels.
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