'Social's' $23 mil solid start tops box office

9:13 AM PST 10/03/2010 by Carl DiOrio, AP

'Case 39,' 'Let Me In' make modest debuts in $5 million range

A curious box-office creature, Sony's "The Social Network" appears more tortoise than hare.

The David Fincher-helmed drama about the creation of Facebook posted an estimated $23 million to top the domestic box office during the weekend. Yet the "Social" launch fell in the lower end of projections, despite showing broad demographic bandwidth.

Prerelease interest in the PG-13 pic was keenest among younger males, even though dramas tend to play older. But as things turned out, opening audiences for "Social" were comprised 53% of females, with 55% of patrons aged 25 or older.

The older-skewing profile could be good news for the film's longer-term prospects. Such pics often show sturdy legs, and dramas also tend to stretch grosses over a longer play period.

"It's playing very broadly, and this is a terrific start," Sony distribution president Rory Bruer said. "This is a movie you can't walk down the street without hearing people talking about it, and the film should permeate in the public consciousness for weeks to come for young and old alike."

"Social" stars Jesse Eisenberg ("Zombieland") as youthful Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg, with Andrew Garfield ("The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus") portraying his onetime best friend and business partner and Justin Timberlake cast as Napster creator Sean Parker. Rooney Mara -- recently tapped to star in the American remake of "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" -- plays Zuckerberg's college girlfriend.

Produced for less than $40 million, "Social" will seek to build on its solid early start, bolstered by gathering kudos-season buzz. Almost unanimously positive reviews clearly helped to broaden the film's bow, while non-traditional marketing included a promo page on Facebook-rival MySpace in tacit acknowledgment of the movie's withering portrayal of Zuckerberg.

"For an adult drama, this is a terrific opening," Bruer said. "It's not going to open like a romantic comedy or an action adventure, but it's going to stay around longer."

Elsewhere among the top rankings, the 3D family adventure "Legend of the Guardian: Owls of Ga'Hoole," from Warner Bros. and Village Roadshow, dipped just 33% from its week-earlier opening for a surprisingly strong $10.9 million in the silver-medal position and $30 million in cumulative coin. Fox's Michael Douglas starrer "Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps" declined 47% to fetch $10.1 million in third place in its second weekend with a $35.9 million cume, while the Warners/Legendary heist thriller "The Town" finished fourth with $10 million and a $64.3 million cume through three frames.

Two other new wide releases settled for modest debuts: Paramount Vantage's demonic-possession pic "Case 39" fetched $5.4 million in seventh place, and Overture's vampire thriller "Let Me In" grabbed $5.3 million in eighth.

Collectively, the weekend top 10 registered $83.8 million, or 7% less than top performers in the same frame last year, Rentrak said.

In a limited bow, MPI/Vitagraph's unrated horror pic "Hatchet II" grossed $68,000 from 68 playdates for a bloodless $912 per engagement.

Fox Searchlight's dramatic thriller "Never Let Me Go" -- starring "Social's" Garfield and "Money's" Carey Mulligan -- added 17 theaters for a total 43 to ring up $188,497. That represented an acceptable $4,384 per venue and pushed pic cume to $725,816.

Sony Pictures Classics expanded Woody Allen's "You Will Meet a Tall, Dark Stranger" by 23 playdates for a total 29 to gross $232,424, or a solid $8,015 per engagement. "Stranger" cume climbed to $518,909.

"Case 39" stars Renee Zellweger as a social worker trying to help a mysterious young girl. Co-stars include Bradley Cooper, with German helmer Christian Alvart ("Antibodies") directing.

Opening audiences for the R-rated pic skewed 53% female, with 55% of patrons aged 25 or older.

Produced for an estimated $27 million, "Case 39" has rung up $17 million in foreign box office since bowing abroad last year.

Helmed by Matt Reeves ("Cloverfield"), "Let Me In" stars Chloe Moretz, Richard Jenkins and Kodi Smit-McPhee and is based on the 2008 Swedish horror film "Let the Right One In." The R-rated film drew audiences comprised 53% of females, with 50% of patrons under age 25.

Its production costs totaled less than $20 million, with Hammer Films co-producing.

Looking ahead, three movies open wide on Friday, including yet another horror movie -- Wes Craven's "My Soul to Take" from Universal and Rogue. Also bowing wide: Disney's sports drama "Secretariat" and Warners' dramatic comedy "Life As We Know It."

Disney's 804 sneak previews on Saturday of "Secretariat" played to 59% capacity audiences comprised 55% of patrons aged 35 or older. Warners' 811 sneaks of "Life" the same night drew similar results, with 60% capacity audiences and half its support from moviegoers aged 30 or older.
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