Critters clean up

'Madagascar 2' nabs $64 mil to top frame

DreamWorks Animation's family comedy "Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa" enjoyed a surfin' safari to the top of the domestic boxoffice this weekend. The Paramount-distributed animated sequel cruised to an estimated $63.5 million opening that significantly outdistanced prerelease projections. Its three-day haul outpaced even the four-day bow by the original "Madagascar," which unspooled over the 2005 Memorial Day frame with $61 million.

Universal's R-rated comedy "Role Models" finished second with a $19.3 million debut that also comfortably outpaced forecasts. Dimension Films' R-rated comedy "Soul Men" — distributed by MGM and starring Samuel L. Jackson and the late Bernie Mac — bowed in sixth place with $5.6 million.

Disney's leggy "High School Musical 3: Senior Year" took third place with $9.3 million and a 17-day cume of $75.7 million, while Universal's Clint Eastwood-helmed "Changeling" was fourth in its second weekend of wide release with $7.3 million and a $20.6 million cume.

The Weinstein Co.'s R-rated comedy "Zack and Miri Make a Porno" was fifth, as its modest 35% sophomore-session dip produced $6.5 million on the frame and a $20.9 million cume. Freestyle' s PG-13 horror entry "The Haunting of Molly Hartley" fell 36% from its opening grosses to $3.5 million in eighth place with a $10.2 million cume.

Outside the top 10, Warner Bros. held Guy Ritchie's gangster film "RocknRolla" in a barely wide 826 locations for a second session, making off with $1 million for a $4.3 million cume.

Industrywide, the weekend's $148 million in collective boxoffice represented a big 30% improvement over the same frame a year earlier, according to Nielsen EDI. The industry has marked year-over-year upticks six of the past seven weekends.

Seasonal boxoffice is up 5% at $1.32 billion. Year to date, 2008 is tracking roughly evenly with the same portion of last year, at $8.12 billion vs. $8.14 billion.

In a limited bow this weekend, Lionsgate's rock opera "Repo: The Genetic Opera" grossed $51,578 from eight playdates in six markets, or a sturdy $6,447 per engagement. "Repo" has drawn withering reviews, but Lionsgate execs hope to build a cult following for the campy musical, which stars pop singer Sarah Brightman and paparazzi favorite Paris Hilton.

Miramax opened its Holocaust drama "The Boy in the Striped Pajamas" in 17 locations and grossed $255,000, or an impressive $15,000 per site.

Image Entertainment debuted horror comedy "My Name Is Bruce" in four theaters and grossed $17,777, or an acceptable $4,444 per venue.

Peace Arch bowed Jean-Claude Van Damme starrer "JCVD" on two screens and grossed $23,346, or a solid $11,673 per engagement.

Mike Leigh's platforming "Happy-Go-Lucky" was among the frame's notable expansions, as Miramax added 42 playdates for a total of 102 to earn $439,000. That represented a sturdy $4,304 per venue and pushed its cume to $1.3 million as Miramax promotes a well-reviewed performance by Sally Hawkins for awards consideration.

Sony Pictures Classics expanded Jonathan Demme's "Rachel Getting Married" by 158 theaters for a total of 391 and grossed $1.7 million, for an acceptable $4,240 per engagement, with a $5.6 million cume.

SPC added 25 engagements for a total of 34 for Charlie Kaufman's "Synecdoche, New York" and grossed $314,957, or an encouraging $9,263 per playdate, with a cume of $696,748.

Fair Trade Pictures expanded its sex-trade documentary "Call + Response" to five theaters from a previous two and grossed $15,000, or an acceptable $3,000 per location, with a $168,000 cume.

"Madagascar 2" represents DWA's final 2-D production ahead of a complete shift to 3-D starting with the March release of "Monsters vs. Aliens." Its opening was DWA's third best ever, after those by the two "Shrek" sequels.

"We were hoping that audiences would be wanting to escape to the movies for a comedy, and they sure turned up big time," DWA marketing maven Anne Globe said.

Ben Stiller and Chris Rock reprise their lead voice roles in "Madagascar 2," which Eric Darnell and Tom McGrath again co-directed. "Soul Men" co-star Mac also voiced a new secondary character in "Madagascar 2."

Audiences skewed 60% female, with 51% of patrons aged 25 or older.

"Madagascar 2" found $3.6 million of its opening haul from 131 Imax giant-screen venues.

"It's fantastic," Imax Filmed Entertainment chief Greg Foster said. "We're 6% of its weekend boxoffice."

Director David Wain's "Role Models" — starring Seann William Scott and Paul Rudd — rolled out to audiences skewing 53% male, with 51% of patrons under 25. That seemed to indicate broader support among older moviegoers than anticipated.

"People clearly wanted to laugh at something," Universal distribution president Nikki Rocco said. "And they really wanted this sort of genre comedy, which is a little bit edgier."

Weekend grosses put Universal over the $1 billion mark in domestic boxoffice in studio-record time, Rocco said.

"Soul Men" was expected to gross a bit higher, even if it played narrowly to urban audiences. MGM and Dimension execs declined comment on the opening. (partialdiff)
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