'Evan' afloat with $31.2 mil; '1408' books solid debut

Overall b.o. tally down for 4th straight week

The ads for Universal Pictures' "Evan Almighty" suggested a comic take on the Noah's Ark story, but the boxoffice terrain that the new film encountered in North America this past weekend proved to be positively Darwinian as a crowded June market has begun to turn into a struggle for the survival of the fittest.

Given its pricey budget of at least $175 million, "Evan" faced a big challenge. Going into the weekend, no one expected the movie — a spinoff of 2003's "Bruce Almighty," which took in $68 million over the three-day portion of a Memorial Day weekend holiday in 2003 — to come anywhere close to its predecessor's mark. Whereas "Bruce" was a PG-13 comedy aimed at somewhat older moviegoers, "Evan," from director Tom Shadyac and screenwriter Steve Oedekerk, was designed as a PG-rated, family-friendly movie. Expectations were that it would arrive somewhere in the mid-$30 million range, but despite setting up shop in 3,604 theaters, it came up a few million dollars short with $31.2 million.

The big question now will be how well the movie, starring Steve Carell, can hold up against such upcoming features as Buena Vista's "Ratatouille" and Warner Bros. Pictures' "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix," which are both likely to ignite excitement among younger moviegoers. Universal could take some comfort in the fact that CinemaScore's sampling of the opening-weekend audience found that overall moviegoers awarded the movie an A-. And though the film did apparently attract families — 29% of its audiences was under 18 — it also found favor with a good number of adults, not all of whom were accompanied by children, since the over-25 crowd made up 53% of the audience.

In contrast to "Evan," the relatively upscale horror movie "1408," director Mikael Hafstrom's adaptation of a Stephen King story starring John Cusack and Samuel L. Jackson, exceeded expectations. While R-rated horror movies have gotten the cold shoulder from most moviegoers in recent months, the PG-13 "1408" posted a strong second-place showing, grossing $20.6 million in 2,678 theaters. The audience, which skewed older and male, proved a tough crowd to please, though, and graded the movie a B-.

Paramount Vantage's "A Mighty Heart," the weekend's third new wide release — even if it did roll out in a relatively controlled 1,355 theaters — faced tougher going at the boxoffice. Director Michael Winterbottom's re-creation of the events surrounding the kidnapping and murder of journalist Daniel Pearl as seen through the eyes of his wife, Mariane, played by Angelina Jolie, had to settle for a 10th-place debut with just $3.9 million.

Collectively, the boxoffice witnessed a slight decline from the comparable weekend in 2006, when the Sony Pictures comedy "Click" ruled with a $40 million opening. The frame marks the fourth such decline in a row this summer. The 116 films tracked by The Hollywood Reporter collected $131.5 million, down 6% from the $140.5 million collected during the comparable weekend in 2006.

In terms of holdovers, 20th Century Fox's "Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer," last weekend's chart-topper, witnessed the biggest decline among the top 10. It fell by 66% as it took in $20 million, which brought its domestic total to $97.5 million.

With just a 22% drop, Universal Pictures' "Knocked Up," in fifth place, remained a reliable grosser, picking up nearly $11 million as its domestic cume rose to $109.3. It is the eighth film of the year to cross the $100 million mark.

Among exclusive releases, IFC's "You Kill Me," John Dahl's hit man tale starring Ben Kingsley, bowed in 35 theaters, where it picked up $233,709.

Bowing in just one theater in New York, Michael Moore's "Sicko," from the Weinstein Co. and Lionsgate, took the temperature of the audience in advance of its national rollout Friday and was rewarded with $68,969.