Sony's '21' the high roller

Drama aces out 'Horton' with $23.7 mil bow

Sony's card-counting drama "21" shrugged off critics' brickbats during the weekend to come up aces with an estimated $23.7 million opening atop the domestic boxoffice.

Fox's "Dr. Seuss' Horton Hears a Who!" rung up $17.4 million over its third session to grab second place and push its 17-day cume to $117.3 million. MGM/Dimension debutante "Superhero Movie," a PG-13 superhero spoof, bowed with $9.5 million in third place.

A $4.5 million opening by Paramount's drama "Stop-Loss," though good enough for eighth place on the frame, is unlikely to stop red ink from flowing on yet another Iraq War misfire. And Picturehouse's British comedy "Run Fat Boy Run," hampered by seriously mixed reviews, failed to break the top 10 with its $2.4 million debut in 1,133 theaters.

Among second-week performances, it appears clear that Lionsgate's urban comedy "Tyler Perry's Meet the Browns" has failed to cross over into mainstream audiences. "Browns" dropped a big 61% from its opening to $7.8 million in fourth place with a $32.8 million cume.

Paramount's Owen Wilson starrer "Drillbit Taylor" tumbled a more modest 44% in its sophomore session, earning $5.8 million in fifth place with a $20.6 million cume. "Shutter," the Fox-distributed remake of a Thai horror pic, was off 49% over its second outing with $5.3 million in sixth place and a $19.1 million cume.

Industrywide, the weekend's $103 million in collective boxoffice represented a 19% decline from the same frame a year ago, according to Nielsen EDI data. Year-to-date, 2008 is still 1% ahead of the same portion of last year at $2.15 billion.

Among this weekend's limited openings, IDP Film's Audrey Tautou starrer "Priceless" grossed $117,000 from 24 playdates in New York and Los Angeles. That represented an acceptable $4,875 per engagement prior to expansion into additional markets over coming frames.

ThinkFilm's comedy "My Brother Is an Only Child" bowed with an encouraging $10,500 from a single New York venue a week before expanding to Los Angeles.

Elsewhere in the specialty market, the Spanish-language drama "Under the Same Moon" from Fox Searchlight and the Weinstein Co. grossed $2.3 million from 390 playdates for a sturdy $5,771 per venue and $6.7 million cume. The America Ferrara starrer has been playing in a combination of Hispanic cinemas and art houses, with "Moon" set to rise in about 150 additional locations Friday.

Sony Pictures Classics' drama "Married Life" added 88 theaters for a total of 120 and grossed $336,819, a thin $2,807 per venue, with a cume of $746,621.

SPC's holocaust drama "The Counterfeiters" added six locations for a total of 98 and grossed $411,628, or a satisfactory $4,200 per site, with a $2.5 million cume. The distributor's Middle East comedy "The Band's Visit" added three playdates for a total of 121 to ring up $252,672, or $2,088 per engagement, with a $2.3 million cume.

IFC Films' drama "Love Songs" continued in two locations with $13,640, or $6,820 per location with a cume of $44,605.

Warner Independent's drama "Snow Angels" added 14 playdates for a total of 29 engagements and grossed $50,000, or $1,724 per site, with a $179,996 cume.

Meanwhile, "21" drew audiences 53% under age 25, with males representing 53% of patrons.

"The demos were just terrific, and the picture really played broadly," said Sony distribution president Rory Bruer, who screened the film for exhibitors attending the ShoWest confab this month. "Everything with this picture has really worked well."

With the budget estimated at a relatively modest $35 million, he added, "This is absolutely going to be a big hit for us and a profitable endeavor."

Directed by David Zucker ("The Naked Gun"), "Superhero" drew audiences comprised 70% of patrons under age 25, with males accounting for about 61% of ticket buyers.
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