Boxoffice uses Screen Gems 'Evil' for good

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The third time was charming indeed for Sony Screen Gems' threequel "Resident Evil: Extinction," which took up residence atop the domestic boxoffice for the weekend with a franchise-record $24 million in estimated opening grosses.

Other wide openers marked more mundane outings. Lionsgate's "Good Luck Chuck," an R-rated date comedy starring Dane Cook and Jessica Alba, performed roughly in line with expectations with $14 million in second place. The Universal-distributed Amanda Bynes starrer "Sydney White" grossed just $5.3 million to bow in sixth.

The latest frame also featured more daring feats by platforming pics. Those included David Cronenberg's "Eastern Promises," a London-set thriller about the Russian mob, which Focus expanded to 1,404 theaters in its sophomore outing. It grossed $5.7 million in fifth place.

Notable limited bows included Paramount Vantage's Sean Penn-helmed "Into the Wild" in four theaters in Los Angeles and New York, where it rang up $206,596 -- a wild $51,649 per playdate. "Wild," which stars Emile Hirsch, expands Friday to 35-40 runs in the top 12 markets.

Warner Bros. unspooled the highly anticipated Brad Pitt starrer "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford" -- an early object of attention among awards handicappers -- with an estimated $144,000 from five engagements in Los Angeles, New York and Toronto for an impressive $28,717 per location. "Jesse" will tread water for another frame before riding into 25-30 locations Oct. 5.

Industrywide, the weekend's estimated grosses ran roughly on par with the $98.2 million rung up during the same frame last year, according to data tracker Nielsen EDI. Year-to-date, 2007 is up almost 8% compared with last year at $7.21 billion in industry boxoffice, EDI estimates.

Sony's weekend performances helped the studio cross the $1 billion domestic boxoffice threshold for a sixth consecutive year. The studio has opened six films at No. 1 this year, tops among domestic distributors.

Sony's "Superbad" finished eighth in the latest frame with another $3.1 million in its fourth weekend, shaping $116.2 million in cumulative boxoffice. And the distributor's musical fantasy "Into the Universe" added 252 theaters for a total of 276 to gross $2.1 million, or a solid $7,428 per location, with a $3 million cume.

The first and second "Resident Evil" installments -- based on a video game of the same name -- opened with $17.7 million and $23 million, respectively. The franchise original debuted in March 2002 and went on to gross $40.1 million in domestic boxoffice; the September 2004 sequel, "Resident Evil: Apocalypse," rung up $51.2 million domestically.

Toplined by the franchise's signature femme Milla Jovovich, "Extinction" was helmed by Russell Mulcahy ("Swimming Upstream") and penned like the first two by resident "Evil" genius Paul W.S. Anderson, who also directed the original and numbered among the producers on all three films.

"Milla is a very hard worker and really got out there to help make the movie a success," Sony distribution president Rory Bruer said of promo efforts.

A dazzling teaser-trailer for the film that played in theaters during the summer also helped stoke audience anticipation. "All of the marketing tools were really outside of the box," Bruer said.

The "Evil" threequel attracted audiences comprised of 58% male moviegoers and 55% patrons under age 25. Its weekend win means R-rated pics have finished atop the boxoffice for six consecutive weekends, the first time that's happened since 2001, EDI said.

There was no official word on prospects for a fourth dose of "Evil." But with franchise costs relatively low -- the latest installment cost an estimated $40 million to produce -- an eventual third sequel is considered likely.

"Chuck" also skewed younger in its opening, with audiences split 50-50 between males and females for the modestly budgeted R-rated film.

"Sydney," a PG-13 laugher produced by Morgan Creek, was hemmed in by narrow appeal largely limited to young females.

Among the wide-playing holdovers, Jodie Foster's "The Brave One," from Warners and Village Roadshow, fell 45% in its second weekend to fetch $7.4 million in third place. Its 10-day cume is $25.1 million.

Lionsgate's Russell Crowe starrer "3:10 to Yuma," off just 29% in its third frame, rang up $6.4 million in fourth place to leg it to a $37.9 million cume.

New Line's comedy "Mr. Woodcock" fell 43% to gross $5 million in its second weekend and reach a cume of $15.7 million. The Freestyle-distributed "Dragon Wars" tumbled 50% in its second weekend to gross $2.5 million for a 10-day cume of $8.4 million.

Elsewhere during the weekend, Sony Pictures Classics unspooled "The Jane Austen Book Club," penned and helmed by Robin Swicord, in 25 locations and grossed an estimated $160,520, or a solid $6,421 per theater. "Jane" jumps to 40 or more playdates Friday before widening to 1,000 runs Oct. 5.

Warner Independent's "In the Valley of Elah" added 308 theaters for a total 317 and grossed $1.3 million, or an acceptable $4,022math says $4101 per engagement, with a $1.5 million cume. "Elah" broadens Friday to 650 locations.

ThinkFilm's "In the Shadow of the Moon" added 44 playdates for a total 67, but the space docu began losing rocket fuel with an estimated $178,150, or just $2,660 per location, for a $341,661 cume.

The Weinstein Co.'s Richard Gere starrer "The Hunting Party" expanded from 40 theaters to 328 and grossed $351,000, a limp $1,067 per location, with a cume of $543,814.

Also, Paramount/DreamWorks moved its Michael Bay blockbuster "Transformers" into 72 Imax venues to gross $1.4 million from a total 385 theaters and bump its domestic cume to $313.6 million.

Looking ahead to the weekend, the wide openers will include Universal's Middle East thriller "The Kingdom," starring Jamie Foxx and Jennifer Garner; Disney's Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson starrer "The Game Plan"; and MGM's Robert Benton-directed "Feast of Love," starring Morgan Freeman and Greg Kinnear. "The Darjeeling Limited," helmed by Wes Anderson and toplined by Owen Wilson and Adrien Brody, represents one of the frame's glossier limited bows.
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