'21' trumps 'Leatherheads'

'21' on top for second week in a row

Universal's "Leatherheads," a period pigskin comedy toplined and directed by George Clooney, failed to convert pre-release projections into boxoffice glory and finished second this weekend to Sony's repeat champ "21."

The Las Vegas card-counting drama dropped a modest 37% to ring up an estimated $15.1 million over its second frame with a $46.5 million cume, while the Clooney vehicle chugged to just $13.5 million in opening grosses.

Fox Walden's family fantasy "Nim's Island" copped third place with $13.3 million. Fox's "Dr. Seuss' Horton Hears a Who!" finished in fourth with $9.1 million over its fourth outing yielding a $131.1 million cume.

"The Ruins," an adaptation of Scott Smith's 2006 best-seller from DreamWorks, Paramount and Spyglass, bowed in fifth with $7.8 million.

MGM/Dimension's comedy spoof "Superhero Movie" fell 43% from opening grosses to $5.4 million, good for sixth place and a $16.9 million cume. Paramount's Iraq War drama "Stop-Loss" tumbled from the top 10 with a 49% slide to $2.3 million, collecting a 10-day gross of $8.2 million.

Industrywide, the session's $95 million in collective boxoffice represented a big 23% decline from the same frame last year, according to Nielsen EDI data. The year-ago frame was an Easter weekend and thus was bolstered by the holiday's generally more robust boxoffice.

But seven of the last eight weekends have been marked by downticks in year-over-year comparisons, and the latest underperforming frame -- hampered a bit by preoccupation with Final Four telecasts -- hardly gets April off to an auspicious start.

The recent weakness has also taken its toll on the year-to-date comparison with 2007: 2008 now trails the same portion of last year by 1%, with $2.2 billion in the industry's boxoffice coffers so far.

Among this weekend's limited openers, Paramount Classics' "Shine a Light," a Rolling Stones documentary directed by Martin Scorsese, unspooled in 276 theaters to gross $1.5 million, or a solid $5,475 per venue. Some $1.1 million of the total came from 93 high-grossing Imax venues.

The Weinstein Co.'s high-profile drama "My Blueberry Nights," featuring Norah Jones, Jude Law, Natalie Portman and Rachel Weisz, debuted in six locations and rung up $73,742, an auspicious $12,290 per site.

And IFC's French-language drama "The Flight of the Red Balloon," helmed by Taiwanese director Hsiao-hsien Hou ("Cafe Lumiere"), bowed with $37,235 from a pair of playdates for a propitious per-screen average of $19,618.

Elsewhere in the specialty market, Fox Searchlight and the Weinstein Co.'s Spanish-language drama "Under the Same Room," starring America Ferrara, added 47 theaters for a total of 437 and grossed $1.7 million, a sturdy $3,910 per venue, with an $8.9 million cume.

IDP/Samuel Goldwyn's "Priceless" added 17 locations for a total of 41 and grossed $165,148, an acceptable $4,028 per site, with a cume of $320,527.

Sony Pictures Classics' Holocaust drama "The Counterfeiters" added 17 theaters for a total of 115 and grossed $387,817, a satisfactory $3,372 per venue, with a $2.9 million cume.

ThinkFilm's Italian-language comedy "My Brother Is an Only Child" added four locations for a total of five and grossed $22,370, or $4,474 per site, with a cume of $36,682.

"Chapter 27," Peace Arch's drama about the murder of John Lennon, added four engagements for a total of five and grossed $16,467, or $3,293 per venue, with a cume of $34,377.

Warner Independent's drama "Snow Angels" added 17 playdates for a total of 46, ringing up $57,000, or just $1,239 per engagement, in shaping a cume of $257,833.

Meanwhile, the weekend's anticipated No. 1 film appeared undone by narrow demographics, as "Leatherheads" played largely to older patrons.

Three-fourths of patrons for the film -- which co-stars Renee Zellweger -- were over age 30, and half were 40 or older. About 54% of pic patrons were female.

From the start with "Leatherheads," both Universal and Clooney faced an expectations-management challenge. This was never going to be a football blockbuster like 2005's remake of "The Longest Yard," which opened to $58.6 million.

And though Clooney's biggest opening remains his $42.9 million score with 1997's "Batman & Robin," a more reasonable comparison may lie with other films he's directed. "Confessions of a Dangerous Mind" debuted with $5.8 million in 2002, and "Good Night, and Good Luck" bowed with just $3.1 million in its barely wide release in 2005.

On the other hand, "Leatherheads" carried not-insubstantial production costs of almost $60 million. "Leatherheads" had originally been scheduled for release last December, until Clooney's injuries from a motorcycle accident delayed his completing work on the movie.

"We were hoping for a little more," Universal distribution president Nikki Rocco said of the opening. "It slightly underperformed. But I'm also disappointed with the overall business this weekend."

The PG-rated "Island," an adaptation of a kids' book starring Jodie Foster, Abigail Breslin and Gerard Butler, played to audiences skewing 60% female, with 51% of patrons 25 or older.

"This movie was targeted for families, and that's exactly who came," Fox senior vp distribution Chris Aronson said.

Toting a relatively modest budget estimated at $37 million, "Island" represents the biggest opening to date of the fledgling Fox Walden joint venture of Fox and Walden Media.

The PG-13 "Ruins" played to audiences evenly divided between males and females, with 55% of patrons 18-34. DreamWorks and Spyglass produced the horror film for an estimated $25 million.

"It was a modestly budgeted picture that met the weekend's (pre-release) expectations," DreamWorks spokesman Chip Sullivan said.

Looking ahead, April's year-over-year comparisons should become less challenging as the industry boxoffice struggles to get back on track.

In any event, next weekend is shaping up to be a busy one. Friday's wide openers include Fox's Keanu Reeves LAPD drama "Street Kings," Lionsgate's college road trip comedy "College," Miramax's Dennis Quaid starrer "Smart People" and Sony's horror remake "Prom Night."