'Halloween' a b.o. killer

Slasher pic helps summer end with record $4.3 bil

Like a cat with nine lives, "Halloween" pounced on the North American boxoffice during the Labor Day weekend, taking in an estimated $31 million that set a record for the four-day holiday frame. Director Rob Zombie's remake of John Carpenter's classic 1978 slasher movie might have been the eighth film spun off from the original, but it capped off a heated moviegoing season that saw the summer 2007 boxoffice set a record with $4.3 billion, according to estimates by The Hollywood Reporter.

Weekend moviegoers also sampled the martial arts comedy "Balls of Fury," which ranked third for the four days with an estimated $13.8 million. But they mostly ignored the revenge thriller "Death Sentence," which scrounged up only an estimated $5.2 million as it entered the market in eighth place overall.

The top 10 films for the weekend grossed an estimated $112.7 million, up 26% compared with the $89.2 million that the top 10 earned during the same frame a year ago, according to Nielsen EDI. The weekend also set a boxoffice record for the holiday.

With its estimated $4.3 billion haul, summer 2007 supplants summer 2004 ($4 billion) as the top grosser in Hollywood history, though with estimated admissions hitting 631.4 million, this year will fall short of the record 668.1 million admissions set in summer 2002.

"Halloween," an MGM release of a Dimension Films title, earned its Labor Day weekend record by easily topping 20th Century Fox's actioner "Transporter 2," which set its mark by grossing $20.1 million during the four-day frame in 2005. It also surpassed the top gross on a Labor Day weekend, which "The Sixth Sense" established in 1999 when it collected $29.3 million in its fifth weekend.

Bowing in 3,472 theaters, where it earned a per-theater average of $8,932, "Halloween" enjoyed the widest opening ever for an R-rated horror movie as well as the widest opening ever for the new MGM, which notched its first No. 1 opening in the weekend heats.

Although commentators were writing off the R-rated horror genre this summer after disappointing returns for "Hostel: Part II" ($17.6 million total gross) and "Captivity" ($2.6 million), "Halloween" played like an injection of fresh blood.

"Horror has always had hot and cold periods," said Clark Woods, president of domestic theatrical distribution at MGM. "The combination of Rob Zombie and a retelling of a classic horror story turned this into a major horror film."

The Weinstein Co.'s Dimension label had produced three previous films in the "Halloween" franchise — in 1998, it proved a "Halloween" movie could compete in the summer with its release of "Halloween H20" — and this time, "We asked ourselves what would make it unique," Weinstein Co. co-head Bob Weinstein said. "So we came up with the idea of re-imagining it, instead of just doing a remake, with a director who has a unique vision. 'Halloween' is an iconic title, and audiences responded to it in a way that met and exceeded expectations."

Distributed under Focus Feature's Rogue Pictures genre label, the PG-13 "Balls," directed by Ben Garant and starring Dan Fogler and Christopher Walken, jump-started the weekend by debuting nationwide Wednesday. The comedy, which imagines a world of underground pingpong rivalries, played in 3,052 theaters during the weekend, and its four-day take of an estimated $13.8 million translated to a per-theater average of $4,534. Its cume to date is an estimated $16.8 million.

"Balls" proved to be the biggest opening ever for the Rogue label, and Focus distribution president Jack Foley said: "The biggest issue for us was finding the right playing time in a very competitive summer. We found a good weekend that gave us visibility and traction."

Fox handled the R-rated "Death Sentence" — directed by James Wan and starring Kevin Bacon as a father bent on avenging the murder of his son — as a distribution deal for Hyde Park Films. Debuting in 1,822 locations, its estimated gross of $5.2 million for the four days amounted to a per-theater average of $2,854.

Opening in 340 theaters, Lionsgate's PG-13 heist movie "Ladron que roba a ladron," directed by Joe Menendez, staged the largest bow ever for a Spanish-language movie in the U.S. and took in an estimated $2 million. Lionsgate also used Sunday night to preview its Western "3:10 to Yuma," in 360 locations, where the distributor reported it reached 80% capacity with many sellouts and a positive reception. The film opens nationwide Friday.

After two weekends atop the boxoffice pile, Sony Pictures' R-rated teen sex comedy "Superbad" shifted to second place. For the four days, it grabbed an estimated $15.6 million.

In sixth place, "Mr. Bean's Holiday," from Universal Pictures and Working Title, was the strongest of the second-weekend holdovers, grossing an estimated $8.1 million. MGM's release of the Weinstein Co.'s "The Nanny Diaries" ranked seventh with an estimated $6.4 million. Lionsgate's "War" checked in at ninth place with an estimated $5.1 million.

Two more films crossed the $200 million mark during the weekend. Universal's "The Bourne Ultimatum," in fourth place overall, collected an estimated $13.2 million as its cume rose to $202.6 million. And though it finished well outside the top 10, Buena Vista Pictures' "Ratatouille," from Pixar Animation Studios, grossed an estimated $1.5 million as its gross hit $201.1 million.

The two films were the seventh and eighth of the year to cross that threshold; Walt Disney Studios boasted that "Ratatouille" was the 15th film in the company's history to hit that mark, giving Disney more $200 million-plus grossers than any other studio.

On the limited front, ThinkFilm launched "Self Medicated," an autobiographically inspired story of a teenager struggling with addiction from actor-writer-director Monty Lapica, in 16 theaters. It collected an estimated $45,179 during the four days for a per-theater average of $2,824.

Warner Independent Pictures took its environmentally concerned documentary "The 11th Hour" from 20 screens to 111 theaters, where it grossed an estimated $200,000 during the four days, bringing its cume to an estimated $378,000.

For the week that ended Thursday, total domestic boxoffice was $158.3 million, up more than 6% compared with the same week last year, which took in $148.4 million. For the year to date, domestic boxoffice rose to $6.91 billion, up more than 7% from last year's $6.42 million. Admissions are running more than 2% ahead.