'Bourne' in the U.S.A.: Big No. 1

$70.2 mil bow sets Aug. record

Jason Bourne returns to America in his quest to discover his true identity, and North American moviegoers embraced his homecoming as "The Bourne Ultimatum" rushed to an estimated $70.2 million opening weekend.

Although Universal Pictures' propulsive chase movie dominated the frame, Buena Vista Pictures' "Underdog" found some favor with family audiences. But the weekend's other new wide arrivals, Paramount Pictures' comedy "Hot Rod" and Lionsgate's teen outing "Bratz: The Movie," received the cold shoulder.

The PG-13 "Ultimatum" — with Paul Greengrass, who directed "The Bourne Supremacy" three years ago, again at the helm — raced past the bows of 2002's "The Bourne Identity," which opened to $27.1 million, and 2004's "Supremacy," which arrived to $52.5 million.

Applauded by critics — it earned a 94% approval rating at RottenTomatoes.com — the film written by Tony Gilroy, Scott Z. Burns and George Nolfi and produced by Frank Marshall, Patrick Crowley and Paul Sandberg earned an A from moviegoers according to CinemaScore as it racked up a per-theater average of $19,175.

The latest film in the spy series based on the Robert Ludlum novels established a new record for the best August opening, surpassing the $67.4 million bow of "Rush Hour 2" in 2001. Its Friday gross of $24.65 million was a new in-house record for Universal, whose previous best Friday had been posted by 2003's "Hulk." It also topped all the openings of the James Bond movies and established personal bests for Greengrass and star Matt Damon.

"Moviegoers seemed to sense that something great was going to happen — reviewers and audiences alike rated this one the best one yet," Universal distribution president Nikki Rocco said. "Matt Damon, Paul Greengrass and Frank Marshall all delivered, and all the stars just aligned right."

Led by "Bourne," the weekend's top 10 films collected $158.8 million, up 37% from the comparable frame a year ago, according to Nielsen EDI. Last year at this time, Sony Pictures' "Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Rocky Bobby" bowed to $47 million, followed by Paramount's animated "Barnyard" in the second spot with $15.8 million.

The Walt Disney Co.'s Buena Vista, which traditionally woos the family crowd with an August release, sent into action "Underdog," its PG live-action version of the 1960s cartoon about a superhero canine. In third place, the Frederik Du Chau-helmed film picked up an estimated $12 million in 3,013 theaters.

"We're right on track," Buena Vista distribution president Chuck Viane said. "School is still out for several weeks in the South, and we should have playtime right through the Labor Day weekend."

Paramount's PG-13 "Hot Rod," meanwhile, was left spinning its wheels. The stunt-driver comedy from Lorne Michaels' SNL Films, budgeted at about $23 million, stars Andy Samberg and Jorma Taccone and was directed by Akiva Schaffer. Stalled in ninth place, it picked up an estimated $5 million in 2,607 theaters.

"We love Lorne Michaels and his team and feel that Andy, Akiva and Jorma are truly unique new talents," said Rob Moore, Paramount president of worldwide marketing, distribution and business operations. "We are disappointed that more people did not get into the theaters this weekend to see their freshman film outing. That said, we look forward to many successful endeavors together in the future."

Although based on a popular MGA toy line, the Bratz dolls didn't translate into a big-screen draw. "Bratz," a PG high school-set film directed by Sean McNamara, was relegated to 10th place with an estimated $4.3 million from 1,509 theaters.

In its second weekend, 20th Century Fox's animated "The Simpsons Movie" fell 65% on the heels of its whopping $74 million debut. In second place overall, it grossed an estimated $25.6 million for the frame, bringing its domestic cume to more than $128 million.

"Simpsons" crossed the $100 million mark Thursday, becoming the 15th film of the year to surpass that milestone. Internationally, the movie has hit a cume of about $187 million, bringing its worldwide total after two weekends to more than $315 million.

Also in its second weekend, Warner Bros. Pictures' romantic comedy "No Reservations" declined 44%. In seventh place, it dined out on an estimated $6.6 million, bringing its domestic cume to an estimated $24.2 million.

Universal's "I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry" ranked fourth in its third weekend with an estimated $10.5 million that brought its cume to $91.7 million. Also in its third frame, New Line Cinema's musical "Hairspray" was fifth with an estimated $9.3 million and a cume of nearly $79 million.

On the specialty front, Picturehouse rolled out "El Cantante," a biopic of salsa singer Hector Lavoe starring Marc Anthony and Jennifer Lopez, in 542 theaters. In the 12th spot overall, the Leon Ichaso-helmed film grossed an estimated $3.3 million for a per-theater average of $6,003.

"The core Latino audience really turned out for the film," Picturehouse president Bob Berney said. "The per-screen average for the New York (area) was $19,636 on a broad release of 34 screens. We'll add about 50 screens nationally this weekend."

Miramax Films courted female moviegoers with its period romance "Becoming Jane," starring Anne Hathaway as a young Jane Austen and directed by Julian Jarrold. The film was introduced in 100 theaters, where it grossed an estimated $1 million.

"It was a good test, and it passed with flying colors," Miramax president Daniel Battsek said. "This felt like a date on which we could be a real alternative, and Anne Hathaway has worked really hard for the film." Earning a "definite recommend" rate of 67%, the film will look to good word-of-mouth to pave the way as it expands to 500 theaters this weekend.

For moviegoers looking for something more irreverent, ThinkFilm launched "The Ten." David Wain's sketch comedy riffing on the Ten Commandments grossed an estimated $117,500 in 25 theaters, good for a per-screen average of $4,700. The film will expand in its existing markets this weekend before moving into an additional 20 markets Aug. 17.

For the week ending Thursday, total domestic boxoffice was $283.9 million, up nearly 37% from the $207.3 million collected during the comparable weekend last year. Year to date, the boxoffice is $6.03 billion, up more than 6% from last year's $5.67 billion. Admissions are running more than 1% ahead.