'Hellboy II' tops boxoffice

'Journey to the Center of the Earth' finishes third

Universal enjoyed a heavenly bow with "Hellboy II: The Golden Army," as the action fantasy from helmer Guillermo del Toro grossed an estimated $35.9 million to top the domestic boxoffice this weekend.

Sony's Will Smith starrer "Hancock" -- like the session champ, a film about an offbeat superhero -- absorbed a modest 47% drop over its sophomore outing to ring up $33 million in second place and a 10-day cume of $165 million.

More than 900 3-D screens padded grosses of the Warner Bros.-distributed adventure film "Journey to the Center of the Earth," lifting the New Line-Walden Media co-production to a better-than-expected $20.6 million in third place over the busy frame.

But Fox's Eddie Murphy comedy "Meet Dave" debuted as weakly as feared, with just $5.3 million in seventh place.

Industrywide, the weekend's $151 million represented a 17% decline from the comparable frame last year, even though the top three films all outperformed pre-frame expectations. But the 2007 comparison was always going to be a tough one, matching up with a year-ago frame topped by a $77.1 million opening for "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix."

The boxoffice season is now tracking 3% behind last summer. Year-to-date, 2008 is 3% behind the same portion of last year, at just under $5 billion.

Among this weekend's other holdover titles, Picturehouse's "Kit Kittdredge: An American Girl" dropped just 29% in its second session of wide release to produce $2.4 million in 10th place. The Abigail Breslin-starring Depression-era yarn -- spun from a popular line of girls' dolls -- now totes an $11 million cume.

"It was all matinee business," Picturehouse president Bob Berney said of the latest frame. "It looks like we're going to hang in there and become the matinee movie for the summer."

Among limited releases, Sony Pictures Classics' Ben Kingsley starrer "The Wackness" added 25 engagements for a total of 36 and grossed $224,715, or a solid $7,249 per playdate, with a cume of $478,964.

IFC's period drama "The Last Mistress" added four theaters for a total of 23 and grossed $73,232, or an acceptable $3,184 per venue, with a cume of $289,291.

ThinkFilm's Werner Herzog-helmed Antarctica documentary "Encounters at the End of the World" added 13 runs for a total of 32 in grossing $83,950 -- a so-so $2,623 per location -- with a cume of $365,688.

The "Golden Army" opening represented a 50% improvement over 2002's $23.2 million opening for Sony-distributed "Hellboy." Universal grabbed the chance to work with del Toro in producing a franchise follow-up after Sony -- which partnered with then-producer Revolution Studios on the original -- passed on the sequel rights.

"The campaign peaked, and I think the reviews really helped," Universal distribution president Nikki Rocco said. "We're really happy. We loved doing the project with Guillermo. This guy has so much talent, and (releasing the sequel) was the right thing to do."

The first "Hellboy" grossed $59 million domestically, but the rousing start should see the sequel approach or even surpass $100 million. That could tempt del Toro and Universal to collaborate on a second sequel, and preliminary discussions about that already have been held.

Del Toro and topliner Ron Perlman posted career bests with the bow, in both cases surpassing their opening with 2002's "Blade II" ($32.5 million).

"Golden Army" skewed heavily male, with audiences almost evenly split between moviegoers under 25 and older patrons. More than half of the film's support came from urban and Latino moviegoers.

"Journey" -- a PG-rated actioner starring Brendan Fraser -- featured double-screening at dozens of its 854 3-D venues, which rang up theater averages more than three times higher than those in conventional venues.

"That's the highest of all the films we've released," RealD chairman and CEO Michael Lewis said. "So we're really thrilled."

More than 57% of the total "Journey" tally -- or $11.7 million -- came from 3-D locations, which represented just 30% of its total playdates.

For Warners, the release presented all sorts of distribution and marketing challenges, and studio execs were passed the baton on the film just months ago when New Line was downsized from a production-and-distribution division to a production shingle.

"We exceeded people's expectations," Warners distribution president Dan Fellman said. "People just thought it would perform for young boys and their parents, and it was much broader than that."

About 40% of tickets represented non-family purchases, with 73% of patrons 25 or older. Males represented 60% of audiences.

"Dave" was a disappointment ranking at the lower end of Murphy's career openings.

"People liked the movie, but not enough of them came," Fox senior vp distribution Bert Livingston said.

Fox, New Regency and Dune co-produced and financed "Dave," whose space alien theme bore unfortunate parallels with Murphy's "The Adventures of Pluto Nash." That comedy bomb opened to $2.2 million in August 2002 and grossed just $4.4 million domestically.

Looking ahead, next weekend is shaping up as a potentially watershed session for the summer boxoffice.

Interest is so high in Warners' Batman sequel "The Dark Knight" that midnight and even 6 a.m. showtimes have been set for the Christian Bale-Heath Ledger starrer's opening day on Friday. Also scheduled to unspool are "Mamma Mia!" -- Universal's star-studded adaptation of the Broadway musical, which is looking strong with older women -- and "Space Chimps," a CGI comedy from Fox that could do modestly well with family audiences.

That will make for six wide openers over a span of eight days, challenging holdover films to maintain market traction with moviegoers often displaying a collective short attention span these days.

Not that any of that seemed to hurt "Hancock" this weekend.

"That was a fabulous hold for the picture, and it just goes to show the star power of Will Smith," Sony distribution president Rory Bruer said.

Also this weekend, DreamWorks Animation's Paramount-distributed animated feature "Kung Fu Panda" became the summer's third $200 million grosser, after "Iron Man" ($312.7 million) and "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" ($310.5 million). "Panda" pulled in another $4.3 million to land in eighth place on the frame and boost its domestic cume to $202 million.