Hoops dilutes boxoffice heat

'Knowing' scores $24.8 mil to lead pack

There was more snacking than feasting at the domestic boxoffice during the weekend. Summit Entertainment's suspense thriller "Knowing" bowed at No. 1 with an estimated $24.8 million, and two other wide openers also registered respectable sums. Paramount's R-rated comedy "I Love You, Man" debuted in second place with $18 million, and Universal's spy thriller "Duplicity" took third with $14.4 million.

Holdover pics also contributed decent performances. But despite sturdy grosses, the session's $107 million in industrywide boxoffice marked a 6% dip when compared with an Easter 2008 weekend topped by two $20 million-plus performers.

Nielsen data show the latest frame represents just the third year-over-year down session in 11 frames this year, and industryites remain upbeat about the current theatrical marketplace. Year-to-date, 2009 is pacing 1% head of the same portion of last year at $2.02 billion, but the modest nature of that improvement reflects seasonal fluctuations in the boxoffice calendar.

Telecasts of the NCAA men's basketball tournament preoccupied some prospective moviegoers during the weekend, and that should remain true for two more sessions. In a more positive development, the college spring-break season will peak during the coming week, and that should bolster patronage for younger-skewing pics.

Elsewhere among the latest rankings, Disney's family adventure "Race to Witch Mountain" dropped a modest 47% from opening grosses to ring up $13 million in fourth place for a 10-day cume of $44.7 million. Warner Bros.' superhero actioner "Watchmen" fetched $6.7 million to finish fifth in its third frame and pump its cume to $98.1 million, and Universal's horror thriller "The Last House on the Left" dropped 58% in its sophomore session to register $5.9 million in sixth place with a $24 million cume.

In a limited opening, Focus Features unspooled the thriller "Sin Nombre" in six theaters and grossed $77,403, or a solid $12,900 per venue.

IFC Films bowed the Irish hunger-strike drama "Hunger" on a single New York screen to gross $13,565.

Overture expanded its Amy Adams-Emily Blunt starrer "Sunshine Cleaning" by 60 playdates for a total of 64 and rang up $705,161. That represented an auspicious $11,018 per engagement as "Cleaning's" cume climbed to $993,584. The platform release will broaden to about 100 locations Friday, with a wider expansion set for April 3.

Directed by Alex Proyas ("I, Robot"), "Knowing" stars Nicolas Cage and Rose Byrne (FX's "Damages") in a time-warp tale initially penned by novelist Ryne Douglas Pearson. "Knowing" audiences were evenly composed of males and females, with 63% of patrons 25 or older.

"The opening came in at about where we thought we would be, maybe a tad higher," Summit distribution president Richie Fay said. "We're very, very pleased."

Helmed by John Hamburg ("Along Came Polly"), "Man" stars Paul Rudd and Jason Segel, previously paired in last year's "Forgetting Sarah Marshall." Audiences were roughly evenly split between males and females, with 55% of patrons 25 or older.

"We feel pretty good," Paramount executive vp distribution Don Harris said. "We're right in the neighborhood that we expected to be in."

Written and directed by Tony Gilroy ("Michael Clayton"), "Duplicity" stars Julia Roberts and Clive Owen as a pair of former CIA operatives who take industrial espionage jobs.

About 68% of "Duplicity's" support came from females. With exit surveys also showing that 78% of patrons were 30 and older, Universal execs hope "Duplicity" will prosper over the longer haul like many older-skewing pics.

"It's an adult, thinking- person's kind of movie," Universal distribution president Nikki Rocco said. "It's a solid opening for a film of this genre."

Looking ahead, three wide releases are set for Friday: Paramount unspools DreamWorks Animation's 3-D feature "Monsters vs. Aliens," Lionsgate sends out the supernatural thriller "The Haunting in Connecticut" and Fox debuts the cop thriller "12 Rounds." (partialdiff)