'Wild Hogs' takes easy ride to boxoffice summit

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America went hog wild this weekend for Buena Vista's ensemble comedy starring John Travolta, Tim Allen, Martin Lawrence and William H. Macy, proving once again that the nation's critics are not plugged in to what moviegoers are looking for. Skewered by reviewers, the PG-13 rated comedy "Wild Hogs" grossed an astounding estimate of $38 million at the North American boxoffice, grabbing the top spot by a wide margin.

The other openings this weekend -- those with much better reviews -- had more trouble luring audiences. Paramount Pictures' "Zodiac" managed a decent second place opening, grossing an estimated $13.1 million in more than 2,000 theaters. But Paramount Vantage's edgy Southern tale about sin and redemption, "Black Snake Moan," struggled with an estimated $4 million bow in more than 1,200 playdates.

Overall, though, the strength of "Hogs" put the boxoffice in an up position compared to last year at this time, when Warner Bros. Pictures bowed "16 Blocks" to $11.8 million and Sony unveiled "Ultraviolet" to $9 million. In fact, the Top 10 was up a strong 30% compared to last year.

The majority of the holdovers held up well this frame. Sony Pictures' "Ghost Rider," which had been in the top spot for the past two weeks, dropped an estimated 43% in its third session, earning an additional $11.5 million. The Nicolas Cage-actioner has now grossed $94.8 million at the boxffice, with Sony expecting it to reach the coveted $100 million mark next week.

Buena Vista's family film "Bridge to Terabithia" also continued to perform strongly. In 20 additional locations, the PG-rated movie from Walden Media grossed an estimated $8.6 million, for a 40% drop, putting its three-week cume at $57.9 million.

DreamWorks' "Norbit," released by Paramount, also managed a strong hold despite the direct competition from "Hogs" and its urban skew with star Martin Lawrence. In 2,827 locations, the Eddie Murphy-starring comedy earned an estimated $6.4 million, for an impressive 34% drop. The PG-13 rated comedy has grossed close to $83 million in four weeks and should get to $100 million easily.

Warner Bros. Pictures' romantic comedy "Music & Lyrics" also seems to be holding its own, likely due to the lack of competition in that genre. Grossing an estimated $4.9 million for the three-day period, the Hugh Grant-Drew Barrymore starrer has earned close to $40 million.

New Line Cinema's "The Number 23" had a harder time luring audiences. Directly in "Zodiac's" wheelhouse, the R-rated thriller starring Jim Carrey plummeted a strong 52% its sophomore session. Earning an additional $7 million, "23's" cume now stands at an estimated $25 million.

20th Century Fox's R-rated comedy "Reno 911! Miami" took a big tumble its sophomore session. Falling an estimated 63%, the adaptation of the Comedy Central show grossed a meager $3.75 million, putting its cume at $16. 4 million.

Warners' "Astronaut Farmer" also plummeted. The Billy Bob Thornton starrer dropped 52% its second session to an estimated $2.1 million. In 2,155 theaters, the film's per-theater average came to $974. Its total cume stands at a meager $7.7 million.

IDP's release of Roadside Attractions/Samuel Goldwyn Films' "Amazing Grace" held in strong. Maintaining its screen count of 791, the PG-rated film about British idealist William Wilberforce dropped a scant 26%, putting its second week number at an estimated $3 million. With a per-screen average of $3,795, the film has now grossed $8.2 million in two weeks of release.

The big story of the weekend, though, is the remarkable debut of "Hogs." From director Walt Becker, the middle-age road trip comedy garnered an impressive $11,561 per-theater average. Playing well all across the country to all ages, the film defied critical reviews and industry expectations.

"There are many cliches in our business, 'funny is money' and 'comedy is king.' This weekend they all came true," said Chuck Viane, Buena Vista president of domestic distribution. "Everybody came to this movie. It didn't matter if you were in Florida or Seattle, it was well attended."

Viane attributes a lot of the film's success to the 820 sneaks Buena Vista held the previous Saturday night. With the vast majority of the shows sold out, Viane is convinced the public became the film's best salesmen.

"The movie delivers on the promise that you will enjoy yourself," added Viane. "You start laughing in the beginning and there is a surprise funny bit in the end credits. People walk in with a smile and walk out with a smile."

For Paramount's "Zodiac," the film played like director David Fincher's highly-rated "Se7en," which bowed in 1995 to $13.9 million, before going on to earn $100 million for New Line. Paramount is counting on some longevity with the well-reviewed "Zodiac," starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Mark Ruffalo and Robert Downey Jr.

"Now it's all about how it plays," said Rob Moore, Paramount president of marketing and worldwide distribution, who notes that the film was handicapped by its 2 hour, 40 minute runtime. "There has been no big Academy movie in March that gets that adult audience. We're hoping we can fill that role and be the quality movie for March."

Paramount's indie label Vantage is also counting on some historical data to justify the performance of Craig Brewer's "Black Snake Moan." As the follow-up to Brewer's debut "Hustle & Flow," "Moan," according to Vantage, is tracking similarly, playing strong in the Northeast, the West Coast and select southern cities, including Atlanta and Baltimore, among others.

But "Hustle" opened in 1,013 theaters to $8 million in July 2005, for a per-theater average of $7,914. "Moan" bowed in 1,252 theaters for a much weaker average of $3,208. Even to get up to the $22 million earned by "Hustle," "Moan," starring Samuel L. Jackson and Christina Ricci, is going to have to do some big business in upcoming weeks.

Vantage's executive vp of distribution Rob Schulze is hoping the film can hold in there. "The response from audiences was good, above normal. It seems to be playing to a more balanced audience then 'Hustle & Flow,' a more sophisticated audience. We're just hoping to hold theaters in the weeks to come."

A few of the limited release Oscar winners got a bit of a bump the weekend following the big show. Sony Pictures Classics' "Lives of Others," the winner of best foreign-language film, grossed $807,599 on 112 screens for a per-screen of $7,211. The film has now earned $2.3 million in four weeks of release. SPC plans to expand it incrementally over the next few weekends.

Fox Searchlight's "Last King of Scotland," fresh off the best actor Oscar win for Forest Whitaker, earned an estimated $975,000 on 517 screens. Up 24% from last weekend, the film has now grossed $15.3 million in its long run.

Other limited releases didn't perform. New Line's teen comedy "Full of It," grossed a sad $13,000 on 15 screens for a per-screen average of $867. And MGM bowed the Sally Field-starrer "Two Weeks" to $24,000 in 12 theaters, for a per-screen average of $2,000.

For the week ending Thursday, total boxoffice amounted to $149.8 million, down 1.25% from the comparable week in 2006, which collected $151.7 million. For the year to date, total boxoffice stands at $1.29 billion, down 1.5% from 2006's $1.31 billion. For the year to date, estimated admissions are down 5% from 2006 levels.
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