'Afterlife' wins weekend b.o. with $27.7 mil

'Takers' nabs No.2 spot, bumping 'The American' to third

Ah, the evil genius of it all.

Sony Screen Gems' 3D fourquel "Resident Evil: Afterlife" -- a lone wide opener during the oft-sleepy first frame of the fall box office season -- topped the domestic rankings with an estimated $27.7 million in weekend coin. The scifi-horror actioner's rousing start is all the more impressive when measured against previous "Evil" bows, marking a new high for the eight-year-old film series, with help from 3D ticket "upcharges."

The chart-topping performance thus also underscores moviegoers' continued embrace of 3D, despite tickets costing $3-$5 more than for 2D pics. "Afterlife" is the first extra-dimensional installment in the video game-spawned franchise, featuring more than 2,000 3D locations among its 3,203 total playdates.

Each successive "Evil" pic has opened bigger than the previous. Most recently, September 2007's "Resident Evil: Extinction" unspooled with a $23.7 million first frame and $50.6 million overall domestically.

Sony paid $52 million for most worldwide rights on "Afterlife," produced by Germany's Constantin Film for an estimated $60 million. Bowing in most global territories through next weekend, the zombie-virus yarn collected $45.5 million internationally in the most recent session.

Directed by franchise originator Paul W.S. Anderson, "Afterlife" features Milla Jovovich reprising her recurring role as a primary "Evil" heroine. The R-rated pic attracted opening audiences comprised 58% of males, with 51% of patrons aged 25 or older.

"'Afterlife' just so over-performed around the world," Sony distribution boss Rory Bruer said. "The excitement that 3D brings to the film was a huge positive."

Some 141 high-grossing Imax 3D venues -- boasting upcharges of $5 or so -- contributed $2.6 million domestically.

"This is a record September opening for Imax, and [our global] $23,000 per screen is remarkably strong for this time of the year," Imax Filmed Entertainment chief Greg Foster enthused. "Fan boys love Imax. It's just as simple as that."

Sony Screen Gems' leggy heist actioner "Takers" took in $6.1 million in second place, yielding $48.1 million in cumulative coin through three frames and a rare pair of pics atop the weekend rankings for Clint Culpepper's genre unit. "Afterlife" and "Takers" represent the first two campaigns supervised by Screen Gems executive VP, marketing Loren Schwartz since his moving over from a creative advertising post at Sony/Columbia.

Elsewhere during the weekend, Focus Features' George Clooney-starrer "The American" -- which topped all comers just a week earlier -- fell 55% from its first Friday-Sunday to post $5.9 million in third place, with a $28.3 million cume since Sept. 1. Fox's crime actioner "Machete" dropped a big 63% to $4.2 million in fourth place on the frame and a 10-day cume of $20.8 million, while Warner Bros.' romantic comedy "Going the Distance" dipped 44% in its sophomore session to $3.9 million in fifth with a $44 million cume.

On a year-over-year basis, the weekend's $84 million in industrywide grosses represented a 10% downtick from the first box office session of fall 2009.

Among the latest frame's limited bows, Magnolia unspooled Casey Affleck's Joaquin Phoenix mockumentary "I'm Still Here" in 19 locations and grossed $104,500, or an acceptable $5,500 per site.

Samuel Goldwyn/IDP debuted family sports drama "Legendary" in 177 theaters but registered just $135,210, or a thin $763 per engagement.

Four of a Kind opened the ensemble dramedy "The Romantics" -- featuring Katie Holmes, Anna Paquin, Josh Duhamel and others -- with solo runs in New York and L.A. to gross $44,385, or an encouraging $22,193 per venue.

And the French romantic comedy "Heartbreaker" bowed in two New York locations and one in L.A. to fetch $54,300, or an auspicious $18,100 per site.

Sony offered one-performance-a-night previews of its upcoming youth comedy "The Virginity Hit." With producers including Will Ferrell and Adam McKay, the low-budgeted movie is set for limited release on Sept. 24 and execs wanted to gauge its appeal with the target "Virginity" crowd.

The weekend results seemed encouraging. Sony didn't divulge grosses, but "Virginity" -- whose campaign features "Still a Virgin?" billboards around town -- played to three-fourth capacity crowds and is likely to broaden to additional locations next weekend, execs said.

Four pics open wide on Friday, a day ahead of the Yom Kippur religious holiday. They include Warners' crime thriller "The Town," Lionsgate's 3D animated family comedy "Alpha and Omega," Universal's horror pic "Devil" and Sony's youth laugher "Easy A."
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