B.O. didn't 'Plan' for this

Pic takes keys from 'Kingdom' with $22.7 mil bow

Disney's "The Game Plan" pulled off a surprise at the domestic boxoffice during the weekend as the PG-rated family film exceeded expectations and scored an estimated $22.7 million in its debut. It finished about $5 million ahead the second-place film, Universal's R-rated "The Kingdom," which bowed to about $17.7 million.

Heading into the weekend, prerelease tracking indicated that the two films were neck and neck, with most industry observers giving a slight edge to "Kingdom." But families and kids are the wild card in tracking because interest from that demographic is more difficult to gauge than teens and adults.

Another factor playing into the strong finish for "Game Plan" was the relative dearth of family-oriented pictures in the marketplace of late. The majority of wide-release films opening the past four to eight weeks have been rated R, with a smattering of PG-13 films thrown in.

"It always feels terrific when you over-deliver on industry expectations," said Chuck Viane, president of Walt Disney Pictures Distribution, which now has had four films debut in first place this year.

Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson stars in "Game Plan," which opened in 3,103 locations and averaged $7,307 per theater. Andy Fickman helmed the gridiron-set family comedy, which centers on a carefree NFL quarterback (Johnson) who discovers he has an 8-year-old daughter (Madison Pettis) from a previous relationship.

The opening was the second best for Johnson in a starring role, after Universal's "The Scorpion King," which grossed $36.1 million in its April 2002 debut.

Jamie Foxx and Jennifer Garner toplined "Kingdom," which opened in 2,793 venues. Peter Berg directed the action thriller, about a team of U.S. counterterrorism investigators who work with local authorities in Saudi Arabia to track down the perpetrators of an attack on Americans there.

"Considering how many R-rated films are in the market, we are very pleased with the opening," Universal distribution president Nikki Rocco said.

Although "Game Plan" exceeded expectations and "Kingdom" bowed in the area expected, the total for the weekend's top 12 films was $76.7 million, down 11% from a year ago, when Sony's "Open Season" shot into the top spot with $23.6 million.

The estimated total for all films for the weekend is in the high-$80 million to low-$90 million range, down from last year's $100.3 million.

Sony/Screen Gems' "Resident Evil: Extinction" finished third overall with an estimated $8 million in tow. The R-rated action-horror film slipped a steep 66% in its second weekend in theaters as its 10-day cume advanced to an estimated $36.8 million.

Lionsgate's "Good Luck Chuck" took up residence in fourth place with an estimated $6.3 million, down a lukewarm 54% from its opening. The R-rated romantic comedy has pulled in an estimated $23.6 million after 10 days.

Hitching onto the fifth spot was Lionsgate's R-rated Western drama "3:10 to Yuma," which gleaned an estimated $4.2 million in its fourth weekend. "Yuma" is the first R-rated drama of the year to place in the top five for four consecutive weekends. The well-received remake, starring Russell Crowe and Christian Bale, has generated $43.9 million so far.

The weekend's only other new wide release was MGM's "Feast of Love," an R-rated drama from Lakeshore Entertainment. The Robert Benton-helmed "Feast" was in 1,200 houses and grossed an estimated $1.8 million to place 11th overall, averaging a modest $1,500 per theater. The ensemble cast includes Morgan Freeman, Greg Kinnear, Radha Mitchell, Selma Blair, Fred Ward and Jane Alexander.

Sony's "Across the Universe" moved up into the top 10 for the first time during its slow rollout, collecting an estimated $2.1 million from 339 theaters. The Beatles-fueled film, now in its third weekend, continues to amplify its audience and has garnered about $5.5 million to date. "Universe" expands to about 1,000 theaters Oct. 12.

As for "Game Plan," Viane attributed the film's success to "a movie star that worked very hard at promoting the movie, and the advertising material (that) made you believe that this fish-out-of-water comedy was going to deliver lots of laughs.

The audience for the film was largely families, but a sizable 33% were nonfamilies, which Viane attributed to the film's broad reach "from 8 to 80." The over- and under-25 age range split was fairly even, as was the male-to-female ratio, which skewed slightly female.

"Kingdom" reached an older audience, with nearly two-thirds above 30. It was split mostly evenly in the male-female quadrant, leaning slightly more male.

"The exit polls have been consistently phenomenal, with marks in the top two boxes in the high 90s," Rocco said.

Among the limited releases, Fox Searchlight's "The Darjeeling Limited" was off to a strong start as it debuted Saturday in two locales and took in an estimated $140,000 in two days. Owen Wilson, Jason Schwartzman and Adrien Brody star in the offbeat R-rated comedy from director Wes Anderson. It adds six cities and about 17 theaters Friday and will expand to its widest point Oct. 26.

Ang Lee's "Lust, Caution," an erotic espionage thriller from Focus Features, also was off to a solid start, racking up an estimated $61,688 from one location in New York. Based on a short story by Eileen Chang, the film starring Tony Leung and Tang Wei expands in select cities Friday.

Although a strong start, the bigger test for the NC-17 film will be when it expands beyond major metropolitan areas.

Two other limited releases held up well in their sophomore frames. Sony Pictures Classics' "The Jane Austen Book Club" picked up an estimated $210,382 from 41 sites, taking the cume to about $418,329, and Warners' "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford" grossed an estimated $92,000 from five venues, good for a per-theater average of a striking $18,400. The Western has brought in an estimated $301,000 after 10 days.

"Jane Austen" expands Friday to 800-1,000 theaters.

The national boxoffice for the week ending Sept. 27 was down 2% from the comparable seven-day period a year ago ($127.5 million vs. $130.5 million). Year to date, the cume holds an almost 8% advantage ($7.43 billion vs. $6.91 billion). Admissions are up 2%.
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