'Ghost' keeps its motor runnin'

Holds No. 1 at b.o. with $19.7 mil; '23' next in line

Sony Pictures' "Ghost Rider" stayed aflame for a second week in a row at the North American boxoffice. The new releases, most of them rated R, couldn't hold a candle to Nicolas Cage's fiery vigilante in the Marvel Comics adaptation.

"Ghost" grossed an estimated $19.7 million, flying by New Line Cinema's Jim Carrey thriller "The Number 23," which de-buted at No. 2 with an estimated $15.1 million. The R-rated "23," from director Joel Schumacher, did boast the highest per-theater average of the top 10: $5,476. But 20th Century Fox's "Reno 911! Miami," another of the weekend's three R-rated national bows, barely crossed into double digits, opening in fourth place at an estimated $10.4 million for the three-day period.

The weekend's more uplifting new releases bowed to mixed results. Presented by Samuel Goldwyn Films and Roadside Attractions, "Amazing Grace," from Bristol Bay Prods., launched with an estimated $4.3 million from only 791 theaters. The PG film about William Wilberforce, who led the British parliamentary campaign against the slave trade, grabbed the 10th spot with a strong per-theater average of $5,442. But Warner Bros. Pictures' "The Astronaut Farmer" finished a disappointing ninth, chalking up only $4.5 million from 2,155 theaters for a per-theater average of $2,095.

Of the holdovers, Buena Vista's "Bridge to Terabithia" grossed $13.6 million to place third in its second session. The only family film in the top 10 held on solidly, falling an estimated 40%. Paramount Pictures' release of DreamWorks' "Norbit" also continued to attract audiences in its third week. The Eddie Murphy starrer fell 42% to gross an additional $9.7 million, good for the No. 5 spot. The comedy has now earned $74.7 million at the North American boxoffice.

In sixth place, Warner's romantic comedy "Music and Lyrics" fell only 41% its second session, earning $8 million to put its 12-day cume at $32.1 million. Universal Pictures' "Breach" also held up respectably in seventh place. The CIA thriller dropped 41% to $6.2 million, putting its two-week total at $20 million. In the eighth slot, Lionsgate's "Tyler Perry's Daddy's Little Girls" saw a steeper drop-off, falling 51% to $5.2 million for the frame. The film has grossed $25.6 million in its two-week run.

Overall, the top 12 films of the weekend surpassed last year at this time by a scant 1%, marking the second "up" weekend in a row for the industry.

"Ghost" and "23" were neck and neck at the boxoffice Friday night, but then "Ghost" took off, jumping a surprising 54% from Friday to Saturday night. The film still fell 57% for its sophomore session but has now grossed an estimated $78.7 million after only 10 days in the marketplace.

"The numbers just speak to the fact that this film is playing to a pretty broad audience," said Rory Bruer, Sony Pictures president of domestic distribution. "People are having a good time with the movie."

"23" still posted a respectable showing, even though it landed in second place. "Jim Carrey is a big star, and people came out to see him," said David Tuckerman, New Line president of domestic distribution. Compared with Carrey's other serious turns, "23" surpassed the $8 million opening of the successful "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" and the disappointing $4.9 million bow of "The Majestic."

Perhaps the fact that audiences can watch the "Reno 911!" television show at home for free kept them out of the theaters this weekend. Regardless, the comedy, which was made for less than $10 million, will make money for Fox.

Said Chris Aronson, Fox senior vp and general sales manager of domestic distribution: "The bow was within expectations but perhaps the lower end of expectations, especially given how well some comedies have performed recently. We're hopeful that word-of-mouth will catch on in coming weeks. The show has a loyal fan base, and our job is to broaden it."

"Farmer," which was originally produced at Warner's specialty film division Warner Independent Pictures, might suffer from a lack of audience Sunday because of the Academy Awards. Attracting mostly adults over 30, the film had to settle for the weak per-theater average. But Warners remains hopeful that the Billy Bob Thornton starrer will grab hold of a larger audience in the coming weeks.

"This is a small, very special film that we hope we can keep in the marketplace for a while," said Dan Fellman, Warners president of domestic distribution. "Hopefully we'll pick up some business during the week and hold well next weekend."

The film generated a B+ from CinemaScore, an indicator of good word-of-mouth.

With a strong marketing campaign aimed at faith-based audiences, Roadside and Goldwyn generated packed theaters and what they are hoping will be a long run for "Grace." From director Michael Apted ("49 and Up"), the film starring Ioan Gruffudd played strongly in both commercial theaters and more specialized houses.

"We feel with the information we are receiving back from our exit polls we should have a long playoff as word-of-mouth spreads," said Michael Silberman, IDP president of marketing and distribution. "We had a healthy group sales turnout, and we were delighted that our outreach was successful. We feel the best is still yet to come."

In limited release, Picturehouse bowed the British comedy "Starter for 10" in 20 theaters for an opening bow of $42,957 and a weak per-screen average of $2,148. Yari Film Group bowed the romantic comedy "Gray Matters" in 15 theaters for a three-day take of $28,000. The film earned a per-screen average of $1,866.

In its second weekend of release, ThinkFilm's "Avenue Montaigne," France's official Oscar selection for best foreign-language film, grossed $23,950 in two New York theaters. The film's cume now stands at $71,510.

For the full week ending Thursday, total boxoffice amounted to $222.4 million, up more than 18% from the $187.6 million collected during the comparable week in 2006. For the year to date, domestic boxoffice stands at $1.14 billion, down almost 2% from last year's $1.16 billion. Admissions for 2007 are down more than 5% from 2006 levels.