'Couples Retreat' tops boxoffice

'Paranormal' finishes with $7.1 mil in first full weekend

Finally, some good news for Universal.

The recently struggling studio topped the weekend boxoffice, as its ensemble comedy "Couples Retreat" roused older date-night couples in big numbers to ring up an estimated $35.3 million in opening domestic coin.

The winning performance came during a relatively quiet fall session, with the rest of the top spots filled by holdover pics. But with Universal Pictures replacing its top two execs last week following a summer-long boxoffice drought, the feat was no less welcome, whatever the competition.

Sony's Woody Harrelson starrer  "Zombieland" fell a modest 39% from its chart-topping tally of last weekend to $15 million in second place. That gave the modestly budgeted action comedy a 10-day cume of $47.8 million.

The second, and potentially final, weekend for Disney's double-feature release of "Toy Story" and "Toy Story 2" in 3D saw the pairing dip just 39% from a week earlier to register $7.7 million in fourth place and a $22.7 million cume. Disney has said it would pull the titles from theaters on Friday, but execs will reassess the matter Monday based on the solid marketplace hold for the films.

Paramount's micro-budgeted sci-fi thriller "Paranormal Activity" grossed $7.1 million from 159 locations after expanding from its previous midnight-only playdates. The fifth-place showing amounted to an eye-popping $44,440 per site, with "Paranormal's" cume reaching $8.3 million.

The heady performance should help widen publicity for the inexpensive Slamdance acquisition, as the studio attempts to sustain "Paranormal's" momentum into coming sessions.

Warner Bros.' comedy "The Invention of Lying," starring Ricky Gervais and Jennifer Garner, slid 52% to $3.4 million in seventh place with a 10-day cume of $12.3 million cume. And Fox Searchlight-produced Ellen Page-starrer "Whip It" dropped 40% in its sophomore session to $2.8 million in eighth place for $8.8 million cume.

The weekend's top 10 films registered a collective $92.6 million, or 15% more than top performers in a comparable frame last year, according to Nielsen EDI. Distribs penciled in outsized boxoffice estimates for Sunday, as Monday's Columbus Day holiday in the U.S. and Thanksgiving in Canada were expected to strengthen movie attendance.

Among limited bows, Sony Pictures Classics opened coming-of-age drama "An Education" in four New York and Los Angeles locations to gross $162,381, or an auspicious $40,595 per site.

SPC also bowed soccer drama "The Damned United" with six bicoastal playdates to score $36,844, or a solid $6,141 per engagement.

Roadside Attractions opened Chris Rock's documentary comedy "Good Hair" with 186 theaters in five markets and grossed $1.1 million, or $6,006 per venue.

Variance Films debuted the Vietnamese-American romantic comedy "Passport to Love" in a half-dozen locations and grossed $47,250, or $7,875 per site.

IDP/Samuel Goldwyn unspooled the motocross-themed family film "Free Style" in 261 theaters in 11 markets and grossed $105,705 million -- only $405 per venue.

Elsewhere in the specialty market, Focus Features added 15 playdates for a total 21 for the Coen brothers' "A Serious Man" and grossed $446,761, or $21,274 per engagement, with cume of $799,002.

Lionsgate's hoops documentary "More Than a Game" added 30 theaters for a total 44 and grossed $127,897 -- $2,906 per venue -- with cume of $348,761.

And Miramax's Clive Owen starrer "The Boys Are Back" added 59 locations for a total 75 and grossed $87,000, or $2,496 per venue, with cume of $333,000.

The "Couples" opening -- the best ever for a Columbus Day frame -- greatly outperformed prerelease tracking and appeared built on broad, if somewhat older, support. Nabbing the date-movie crowd Saturday and Sunday, the film's opening audiences were composed 61% of females with 56% of patrons aged 30 and older.

"The picture just performed so well -- beyond anybody's expectations," said Uni distribution president Nikki Rocco

"Couples" was greenlighted by recently ousted Uni co-toppers Marc Shmuger and David Linde. Adam Fogelson and Donna Langley -- previously marketing and distribution and production toppers, respectively -- have been tapped as Uni's chairman and co-chairman.

Looking ahead, three pics open in wide release on Friday. Those include Overture Films' Jamie Foxx-Gerard Butler starrer "Law Abiding Citizen," Sony Screen Gems' horror-thriller "The Stepfather" and Warners' Spike Jonze-helmed "Where the Wild Things Are."