'Witch' whacks 'Watch'

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Warner Bros.' "Watchmen" wilted under the pressure during its second weekend as Disney's family adventure "Race to Witch Mountain" sped to No. 1 at the domestic boxoffice with $25 million in estimated opening grosses.

"Watchmen" dropped a big 67% from its opening frame to register $18.1 million in second place. Universal's Rogue- produced horror pic "The Last House on the Left" bowed in third place with $14.7 million, and Fox Atomic's youth comedy "Miss March" stumbled into theaters with just $2.4 million in 10th place.

Industrywide, the $101 million weekend represented a 16% decline compared with the same frame last year, Nielsen EDI said. It is only the second year-over-year weekend decline this year, with industryites citing a tough comparison with a year-ago session topped by the $45 million opening of "Dr. Seuss' Horton Hears a Who!"

The industry boxoffice is tracking 2% ahead of the same portion of last year, at $1.88 billion. But the year-to-date uptick is deceptively modest because of seasonal fluctuations in the boxoffice calendar.

Among the latest weekend's limited bows, Overture unspooled its Amy Adams-Emily Blunt starrer "Sunshine Cleaning" in four New York and Los Angeles theaters and grossed $214,000. That represented a mind-bending $53,500 per venue, boding well for a planned expansion Friday into 15 additional markets.

Popularity of the pic's cast — which also includes Alan Arkin — helped fuel its outsized opening, and "critics really loved it," Overture executive vp distribution Kyle Davies said.

Samuel Goldwyn/IDP bowed the military documentary "Brothers at War" in seven locations in five markets and grossed $35,040, or $5,006 per site. The pic will expand March 27 into 15 additional markets.

And Capitol Films debuted the romantic drama "Edge of Love" with a single engagement to gross $3,614.

Elsewhere in the specialty market, IFC Films expanded its Italian-language mob drama "Gomorrah" by 14 theaters for a total of 39 and grossed $159,100, or a middling $4,049 per venue, with a cume of $793,723.

IFC added eight playdates for a total of 13 for its Swedish drama "Everlasting Moments" and grossed $62,400, or $4,800 per engagement, as its cume reached $119,220.

Sony Pictures Classics added two playdates for a total of seven for its Russian courtroom drama "12" and grossed $12,041, or a thin $1,720 per engagement. Its cume hit $30,797.

SPC added 32 locations for a total of 120 for its French drama "The Class" and grossed $365,458, or an acceptable $3,045, with a $2.5 million cume.

And the Weinstein Co. added 12 locations for a total of 38 for the Harrison Ford-Ashley Judd starrer "Crossing Over" and grossed $103,024, or just $2,711 per site, with a cume of $273,000.

The PG-rated "Mountain" is a reworking of 1975's "Escape to Witch Mountain," with Dwayne Johnson in the starring role.

"Headed into the weekend, we thought it was going to be a three-way race, but we're very pleased to be at the top of this heap," Disney distribution topper Chuck Viane said. "It was very competitive."

"Mountain" drew audiences comprised 68% of family patrons. Males accounted for 51% of its opening audiences, with 56% of patrons under age 25.

Warners has estimated production costs on "Watchmen" — which now totes a $86 million cume — at $120 million, though some industry estimates set the figure higher. Legendary Pictures and foreign-rightsholder Paramount helped defray production costs, and Fox is in line for a cut of receipts following a court-supervised settlement of claims to distribution rights.

Execs took the bigger-than-anticipated decline in sophomore-session grosses in stride.

"The drop is in line with other high-profile openings, and it's within the norm," Warners exec vp distribution Jeff Goldstein said. " 'Sex and the City' dropped 63% and went on to gross $153 million."

Produced by Rogue Pictures, the R-rated "Last House" stars Tony Goldwyn and Monica Potter in a remake of Wes Craven's 1972 horror thriller, with former actor Dennis Iliadis directing. Audiences skewed 57% female, with 60% of patrons under 25.

"This picture will meet its expectations and have good (revenue from distribution) ancillaries," Universal distribution president Nikki Rocco said. "It was very inexpensive to make."

Production costs on "Last House" are an estimated $11 million.

The R-rated "March" has a young ensemble cast co-directed by TV helmers Zach Cregger and Trevor Moore. Fox didn't conduct exit surveys on audience demos, but the pic was expected to skew sharply toward younger males.

"It was a very targeted picture and was within our range of expectations," Fox senior vp distribution Chris Aronson said.

Looking ahead, three pics are set to open wide Friday: Universal's spy thriller "Duplicity," starring Julia Roberts and Clive Owen; Summit Entertainment's suspense thriller "Knowing," starring Nicolas Cage and Rose Byrne; and Paramount's R-rated comedy "I Love You, Man," starring Paul Rudd and Jason Segel. (partialdiff)
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