WB's 'Departed,' NL's 'Chainsaw' top films

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After a bleak summer for Time Warner's movie studios at the North American boxoffice, the Columbus Day weekend brought a turnaround. The company's two film divisions, Warner Bros. Pictures and New Line Cinema, scored the top two spots for the frame, grossing a combined $46 million with their new titles.

The one-two punch of director Martin Scorsese and the horror film villain Leatherface proved to be just what audiences wanted. Scorsese's "The Departed" grossed an estimated $27 million for the three-day frame, dominating the boxoffice with its performances from Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon and Jack Nicholson. Meanwhile, New Line's "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning" drew upon horror fans for an estimated gross of $19.2 million.

The frame also marked the first time since the March 24-26 weekend that two R-rated films took the top two spots. (In March, the top two titles were "Inside Man" and "V for Vendetta.") The combination, along with the other films in the top 10, helped the boxoffice to a 15% gain compared with last year at this time, when "Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit" led the rankings with $16 million.

The totals marked the second consecutive up weekend at the boxoffice.

The other new release of the frame, Lionsgate's PG-13 "Employee of the Month" landed in fourth place, grossing an estimated $11.8 million.

Sony Pictures took the third spot with its animated "Open Season," holding on well in its second week in release to collect an additional $16 million, bringing its domestic total to $44.1 million.

Buena Vista Pictures' "The Guardian" also maintained a strong presence, with just a 46% drop and an additional $9.6 million to bring its cumulative gross to $32.4 million.

Meanwhile, in its second weekend, the Weinstein Co.'s "School for Scoundrels," an MGM release, dropped a precipitous 60%. Grossing an additional $3.4 million, the film has earned just $14 million during its first 10 days.

After a rough summer that began in May with the boxoffice bomb "Poseidon," Warners is hoping "Departed" is an indication of a reversal of fortune at the studio, which has a full year-end slate, including a couple of Oscar hopefuls.

"It's nice to kick off our fourth quarter, which we feel will be very strong, in such an outstanding way," said Warner Bros. distribution president Dan Fellman, who was surprised by how "Departed" reached all four quadrants of the marketplace. "We were charged by excellent reviews and good word-of-mouth. That will keep us in a strong position in the boxoffice as we approach the holiday season and the end-of-the-year awards."

FRACTION HERE"Departed" marks Scorsese's biggest opening. The film grossed 2 1/2 times more than the director's previous top opener, "Cape Fear," which brought in $10.2 million when it bowed in 1991. "Departed" also is the biggest opening for both Nicholson and DiCaprio.

Going into the weekend, the film looked like it would reach predominantly older males, but according to Warners, the audience was evenly distributed between men and women both over and under 30.

"What usually takes two weeks to get to, we did all at once," Fellman said. "It's very encouraging."

New Line also is experiencing something of a resurgence with "Chainsaw." After a tough summer that included "Snakes on a Plane" and "How to Eat Fried Worms," the studio saw the prequel to its successful 2003 remake generate solid grosses; at $19.2 million, the R-rated film from director Jonathan Liebesman outgrossed its $16 million production cost.

"It's a solid number," New Line marketing president Russell Schwartz said. "Finally, all the estimates and tracking were right on."

New Line's biggest fear is the competition from this weekend's PG-13 "The Grudge 2" which also is out to reach the horror audience.

"I think we'll differentiate ourselves," Schwartz said. "Ours is the movie that defines Halloween and we're the R-rated choice, which is different from the PG-13-rated movie, which is what 'Grudge' is."

Lionsgate scored another single with its low-budget comedy "Employee," which was made for $10 million and marketed for $20 million. The studio is confident that the film will get to a projected gross of $30 million, making it a profitable movie once it hits ancillary markets. Starring Jessica Simpson, Dane Cook and Dax Shepard, the film primarily drew the younger crowd turned away by the R-rated boxoffice winners.

"This is a big win for Lionsgate," Lionsgate Films president Tom Ortenberg said. "It validates our business model, and we're very happy with the result. It will be one of our more profitable films of the year."

The specialty market also heated up during the weekend.

New Line was off to a solid start with its Todd Field-directed drama "Little Children." Opening in five theaters in Los Angeles and New York, the film grossed an estimated $108,400 for a per-screen average of $21,680, a little under the per-screen average of Field's previous work, 2001's "In the Bedroom."

Starring Kate Winslet, Patrick Wilson and Jennifer Connelly, "Children" has been buoyed by strong reviews and early positive word-of-mouth and is set to expand into additional markets Oct. 20.

ThinkFilm opened John Cameron Mitchell's unrated "Shortbus" on six screens in Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco and Canada, grossing $120,650 for a per-screen average of $20,108. Mitchell's sex project, three years in the making, will expand to select additional markets this weekend.

Miramax Films had resounding success with the expansion of "The Queen." From director Stephen Frears and starring Helen Mirren, the PG-13 drama about Queen Elizabeth grossed $401,000 on 11 screens as it added Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Boston and Washington, finishing with a $36,455 per-screen average. The overall cume for the well-reviewed film, which will expand to five more markets this weekend, stands at $634,000.

Fox Searchlight expanded "The Last King of Scotland" to 30 theaters in 14 markets. The biopic of Ugandan dictator Idi Amin grossed $300,000 for a per-screen average of $10,000. In two weeks in release, the film from director Kevin Macdonald has grossed $541,000. It will expand to 20 additional markets this weekend.

The second weekend for Destination Films/Samuel Goldwyn Films' "Facing the Giants" earned an additional $979,200. Playing on 421 screens nationwide, the faith-based film dropped a healthy 27%. Its total gross is $2.7 million.

For the week ending Oct. 5, boxoffice totaled $131.9 million, up 12% from the $117.7 million grossed during the comparable week a year ago. Year-to-date, the boxoffice stands at $7.02 billion, up more than 6% compared with $6.59 billion in 2005. Admissions are up 4% over last year.
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