'Evil' scores franchise's best opening

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Summer might be over, but the threequels keep coming, and this past weekend Sony's Screen Gems unit racked up another sequel success as its "Resident Evil: Extinction" opened in the top spot.

The third film starring Milla Jovovich and based on the video game franchise about viral zombies, the R-rated "Extinction," directed by Russell Mulcahy, bowed to $23.7 million in 2,828 theaters for a bloody good per-theater average of $8,380.

In doing so, it vaulted ahead of the original "Resident Evil," which grossed $17.7 million during its opening weekend in March 2002, and squeezed ahead of "Resident Evil: Apocalypse," which grabbed $23 million (on a wider count of 3,284 theaters) when it made its appearance in September 2004.

Predictably, the movie drew a crowd of rabid, younger males. According to CinemaScore's polling of the opening-weekend audience, 55% were younger than 25 and 65% were males. The audience was a tough sell, though, and awarded the movie a grade of B-minus.

Pulling into the No. 2 spot for the weekend was Lionsgate's comedy of dating errors, "Good Luck Chuck," directed by Mark Helfrich and starring Dane Cook and Jessica Alba. The R-rated film attracted $13.7 million in 2,612 theaters.

Universal's "Sydney White," the weekend's third new wide release, paled by comparison. The PG-13 college comedy starring Amanda Bynes, fresh off the success of "Hairspray," finished in sixth place. The film, directed by Joe Nussbaum, had to settle for just $5.2 million in 2,104 theaters.

In fact, it was knocked out of fifth place by Focus Features' London-set crime drama "Eastern Promises," which grossed $5.6 million. The critically applauded film from director David Cronenberg opened the previous weekend in just 15 theaters and expanded during the past frame into 1,404 locations, where it picked up a solid $3,988 per theater.

In its second weekend, Warners' revenge drama "The Brave One," starring Jodie Foster, shifted from first place to third. Taking in $7.3 million for the weekend, its cume rose to slightly more than $25 million.

In its third weekend, Lionsgate's Western "3:10 to Yuma" was close behind, notching $6.2 million, which brought its cume to $37.7 million.

Overall, the 126 films tracked by The Hollywood Reporter grossed $97.2 million, a slight decrease from the $98.6 million amassed during the comparable weekend last year.

With awards season beckoning, the specialty market was busy with prestige titles marking out their territory.

Paramount Vantage's "Into the Wild," Sean Penn's adaptation of Jon Krakauer's book about an Emory University grad who tests himself by living in the wilderness, opened in just four theaters but did a whopping $212,440 worth of business -- a per-screen average of $53,110.

Warners' "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford" ventured out into five theaters and was rewarded with $147,812, good for a per-screen average of $29,562.

In terms of overall gross, Sony Pictures Classics' "The Jane Austen Book Club" finished the weekend just a hair above "Jesse James" with $148,549 in its account.

But because writer-director Robin Swicord's adaptation of the novel by Karen Joy Fowler debuted in 25 locations, its per-screen average was not quite as robust, even though it approached nearly $6,000 per screen.
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