B.O. in 'Hogs' heaven

Road comedy trounces rivals with $38 mil

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

The other openings on the 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 films were up a strong 30% compared with last year.

The majority of the holdovers held up well. 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 grossed $94.8 million, with Sony expecting it to reach the coveted $100 million mark this week.

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

DreamWorks' "Norbit," re-leased 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 comedy has grossed close to $83 million in four weeks and should get to $100 million easily.

Warner Bros. Pictures' romantic comedy "Music and Lyrics" also seems to be holding its own, likely because of 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% in its sophomore session. Earning an additional $7 million, "23's" cume stands at an estimated $25 million.

20th Century Fox's R-rated comedy "Reno 911: Miami" took a big tumble in its second session. Falling an estimated 63%, the adaptation of the Comedy Central show grossed a meager $3.8 million, putting its cume at $16.4 million.

Warners' "Astronaut Farmer" also plummeted. The Billy Bob Thornton starrer dropped 52% in 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 $7.7 million.

IDP's release of Roadside Attractions/Samuel Goldwyn Films' "Amazing Grace" held strong. Maintaining its screen count of 791, the PG 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 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 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 much of the film's success to the 820 sneaks the distributor held the previous Saturday. With the vast majority of the shows sold out, Viane is convinced that the public became the film's best salesman.

"The movie delivers on the promise that you will enjoy yourself," Viane said. "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 "Seven," which bowed in 1995 to $13.9 million before going on to earn $100 million for New Line. Paramount is counting on 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 noted that the film was handicapped by its 2 hour, 40 minute length. "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 "Moan." As the follow-up to his 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.

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, will have to do some big business in upcoming weeks.

Vantage's executive vp 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 after the big show. Sony Pictures Classics' "The Lives of Others," the winner for best foreign-language film, grossed $807,599 on 112 screens for a per-screen average of $7,211. The film has earned $2.3 million in four weeks of release. SPC plans to expand it over the next few weekends.

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

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 was $149.8 million, down 1.3% from the comparable week in 2006, which collected $151.7 million. Year to date, total boxoffice is $1.29 billion, down 1.5% from 2006's $1.31 billion. Estimated admissions are down 5% from 2006 levels.