'Eagle' takes wing

DW/Par thriller tops b.o. with $29.2 mil bow

DreamWorks/Paramount's terrorism-themed thriller "Eagle Eye" opened solidly atop the domestic boxoffice this weekend, fetching an estimated $29.2 million despite hot competition from some much-watched political theater on Friday.

Starring Shia LaBeouf and Michelle Monaghan as a couple of hapless victims of national-security mechanisms run riot, "Eagle" was aided by $1.7 million from 85 Imax giant-screen venues.

Literary adaptation "Nights in Rodanthe," a Warner Bros.-Village Roadshow co-production starring Richard Gere and Diane Lane, bowed at No. 2 with a pleasing $13.6 million built on older-female support. Last weekend's chart-topper, Sony's Samuel L. Jackson thriller "Lakeview Terrace," dropped a relatively modest 53% to $7 million in third place, shaping a 10-day cume of $25.7 million.

IDP/Goldwyn's firefighting drama "Fireproof," starring Kirk Cameron, used advance bookings by church groups to good effect, as the Christian-themed firefighting drama opened with $6.5 million in fourth place. But Spike Lee's World War II drama "Miracle at St. Anna" debuted poorly for Disney, with just $3.5 million in ninth place.

Telecasts of Friday night's presidential debate proved to be relatively little distraction for "Eagle," which totes production costs of at least $80 million. The PG-13 film drew audiences even split among males and females, with 50% of moviegoers under age 25.

" 'Eagle Eye' just jump-started the fall boxoffice, and we couldn't be happier," DreamWorks spokesman Chip Sullivan said.

Industrywide, the weekend's $101 million marked an 11% improvement over the same frame a year earlier, according to data service Nielsen EDI.

Seasonal boxoffice is pacing 3% ahead of fall 2007 at $350.9 million, EDI said. But year to date, 2008 trails a similar portion of last year by 1% at $7.15 billion.

Limited bows during the weekend included "The Lucky Ones" from Lionsgate and Roadside Attractions, with the Iraq War-veterans drama ringing up a decidedly unfortunate $208,000 from 425 theaters, or just $489 per venue.

Fox Searchlight's quirky Sam Rockwell starrer "Choke" produced $1.4 million from 462 opening locations, or a so-so $2,890 per site.

Among specialty expansions, Paramount Vantage's Keira Knightley starrer "The Duchess" added 47 engagements for a total of 55 and grossed $574,691, or a solid $10,449 per playdate, with a cume of $841,623.

Warners' western "Appaloosa" held in 14 locations to gross $145,000, or a promising $10,356 per site ahead of next weekend's scheduled expansion to about 850 runs. The cume on the Ed Harris-Viggo Mortensen starrer hit $480,000.

Meantime, older moviegoers are much more likely to hit the multiplexes Saturday or even Sunday than Friday. But preoccupation with the debate telecasts probably peeled away some number of prospective patrons from all films Friday night, execs said.

"Rodanthe," based on a novel of the same name by Nicholas Sparks, drew audiences comprised 75% of women, with 78% of patrons over 30.

"The female demographic really does rock," Warners distribution exec vp Jeff Goldstein said.

"Fireproof" followed the lead of earlier Christian-themed films with marketing targeting religious groups and bloc ticket sales. A key to a truly notable theatrical run will be its market hold over future sessions.

"Fireproof" built its big bow on just 839 playdates, yielding a $7,764 per-theater average that Goldwyn distribution head Michael Silberman hailed as "sensational." The film played best in heartland markets and will likely expand to more than 1,000 runs over future sessions, Silberman said.

The story of an all-black U.S. Army troop in wartime Tuscany, "Miracle" attracted audiences comprised 86% of couples Saturday night, with 80% of patrons over age 25. The film played best in New York and Los Angeles — which together contributed more than 21% of its weekend coin — but "Miracle" will be looking to future frames to salvage any sort of decent theatrical run following its wobbly start.

"This is a story that could catch on by word-of-mouth," Disney distribution president Chuck Viane said. "But it is going to be an extremely competitive marketplace." (partialdiff)
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