'Ghost Rider' has fast start, collecting $51.5 mil

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The boxoffice gods were smiling on Hollywood during the Presidents Day weekend as the combination of Sony Pictures' comic book adaptation "Ghost Rider" and Buena Vista Pictures' family flick "Bridge to Terabithia" helped lift the North American boxoffice to new heights for this time of year. The performance of the top two films, plus solid showings from Warner Bros. Pictures' romantic comedy "Music and Lyrics," Lionsgate's "Tyler Perry's Daddy's Little Girls" and Universal Pictures' "Breach," pushed the holiday weekend take to a estimated record $193 million, a 23% gain compared with last year at this time.

The Nicolas Cage starrer "Ghost," from Columbia Pictures and Crystal Sky Pictures, bowed to an incredible $51.5 million for the four-day frame. The PG-13 Marvel Studios production from writer-director Mark Steven Johnson is the highest-grossing opener for the Presidents Day weekend, surpassing Johnson's previous directorial effort, "Daredevil," which opened to $45 million in 2003.

"Terabithia," a Walt Disney Pictures/Walden Media production, surpassed all industry expectations, opening to an estimated $29 million. Based on the 1978 Newbery Award-winning children's book from Katherine Paterson, the film lured families in a big way, generating a strong $9,239 per-theater average.

In fourth place, Warners' Hugh Grant/Drew Barrymore starrer "Lyrics" took in an estimated $16 million over the four days, the third opener to gross above expectations. The PG-13 film, which bowed Wednesday for Valentine's Day, has grossed an estimated $21.5 million in its first six days in release.

Lionsgate's "Daddy's Little Girls," from multihyphenate Tyler Perry, also opened strong at $14.3 million for the four days, finishing in fifth place overall. The romantic comedy, which also opened on Valentine's Day, has grossed $20 million.

Universal didn't score as high with its CIA drama "Breach," but with a stellar cast and strong reviews, the PG-13 film from director Billy Ray ("Shattered Glass") drew in an audience of older moviegoers and took the sixth-place spot. The film grossed $12.3 million during the frame, generating a solid per-screen average of $8,790.

Paramount Pictures' release of DreamWorks' "Norbit" scored a solid estimated gross of $20.7 million over the four days for a third-place finish. The Eddie Murphy starrer has earned $62.8 million in two weeks of release, holding strong against a slew of competition.

With the five new releases and a popular holdover, the boxoffice crushed the previous Presidents Day record weekend, set in 2003, when 20th Century Fox bowed the Ben Affleck starrer "Daredevil." The current weekend's boxoffice blew past the mark by an estimated 17%.

Despite poor weather in much of the country, audiences turned out to see Cage light a fire under "Ghost."

"This movie played like a big summer popcorn movie," Sony domestic distribution president Rory Bruer said. "It was filled with humor and action, and Nicolas Cage takes everyone on an incredible ride. It didn't matter what city we were in, this picture was embraced by audiences everywhere."

The film, as expected, skewed toward the young male audience, and it jumped 12% from Friday to Saturday. "Ghost" marks Cage's highest opener, surpassing Buena Vista's "National Treasure," which bowed in 2004 to $35 million, and can only help his cache as a movie star after recent disappointments "The Wicker Man" last year and 2005's "The Weather Man."

"Terabithia" astounded industry trackers with its opening. Clearly audiences were clamoring for a family film, and the PG movie delivered. Directed by Gabor Csupo (writer-producer of "The Rugrats Movie" and "The Wild Thornberries Movie"), it rose an impressive 41% from Friday to Saturday.

"I think we caught everybody totally off guard with this opening," Buena Vista distribution president Chuck Viane said. "People really like the movie. We received an A- from CinemaScore. It clearly lived up to the expectation level set by the campaign."

"Lyrics" delivered above expectations for a Grant vehicle -- or at least for one released by Warners. Its estimated four-day take of $16 million exceeds his previous Warners bow, 2002's "Two Weeks Notice," which opened during a three-day weekend to $14 million. The studio also is bullish on the film's overseas prospects, as Grant tends to draw even large audiences across the pond and into mainland Europe. (Grant's career-best opening remains 1999's "Notting Hill," which took in $21.8 million in its first three days.)

"We're pleased with what's going on," Warners domestic distribution president Dan Fellman said. "Audiences like the movie, and there doesn't seem to be a lot of competition for romantic comedies in the market for the next few weeks."

There was more competition for films targeting black audiences. Although "Daddy's Little Girls" did well, bowing to $14.3 million for the frame, it clearly was hurt by "Norbit's" strong hold. Its grosses also reflect the fact that Perry does not star in the film; it marked the lowest-grossing opener of the three Perry movies Lionsgate has released.

"This is a film with a budget under $10 million, so to do $20 million its first six days means it will be very profitable for us and totally within our expectations," Lionsgate distribution president Steve Rothenberg said. The movie, starring Gabrielle Union and Idris Elba, drew in primarily black women.

Since expectations for "Breach" predicted nearly half of what the film generated, Universal was happy with the results. Starring Chris Cooper, Laura Linney and Ryan Phillippe, the movie, based on the true story of an American CIA agent spying for the Russians, drew in older couples looking for a fresh drama.

"Our initial awareness was low, but we were buoyed by good reviews throughout the country," Universal domestic distribution president Nikki Rocco said. "When expectations are half of what we do, what's not to celebrate?"

The film generated a B+ from CinemaScore, with 80% of the audience above age 30.

In limited release, ThinkFilm bowed France's official foreign-language Oscar submission "Avenue Montaigne" at two theaters in New York. For the four-day frame, the film grossed $39,400, good for a per-screen average of $19,700. According to ThinkFilm, theaters reported a 100% increase in sales from Friday to Saturday. It will expand March 2 to Los Angeles, Washington and Boston.

For the week ending Thursday, total boxoffice amounted to $156.9 million, down nearly 5% from the comparable week in 2006, which collected $165 million. Year to date, total boxoffice stands at $918.6, down more than 5% from $967.5 million a year ago. Admissions are down 9%.
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