'Inglourious Basterds' wins weekend

'District 9' slips to No. 2 in its second weekend

Quentin Tarantino's World War II actioner "Inglourious Basterds," a pivotal Weinstein Co. release starring Brad Pitt, debuted gloriously during the weekend with an estimated $37.6 million in chart-topping boxoffice.

"Basterds" is touted by some as a make-or-break film for the recently struggling indie, even though Universal is distributing the film internationally and will share evenly in any worldwide profit. Sony's sci-fi thriller "District 9" finished second after falling just 49% in its sophomore session to $18.9 million and a 10-day cume of $73.5 million.

The weekend's other three wide openers bowed softly. Robert Rodriguez's PG-rated family fantasy "Shorts" from Warner Bros. rung up $6.6 million for sixth place; Fox Searchlight's comedy "Post Grad" registered $2.8 million in 10th, and Disney's sports documentary "X Games 3D: The Movie" -- slotted for one week only in 1,399 extra-dimensional venues -- fetched just $800,000.

Among other second-frame holdovers, Warners' literary adaptation "The Time Traveler's Wife" fell a modest 46% to $10 million in fourth place for a $37.4 million cume, while further down the rankings Paramount Vantage's comedy "The Goods: Live Hard, Sell Hard" slid 53% to $2.7 million and a $11.2 million cume. Disney's "Ponyo" dipped 32% to $2.4 million with an $8.1 million cume, and Summit Entertainment's youth musical "Bandslam" dropped 60% to $890,000 and a $4.5 million cume.

The weekend top 10 films collected $108 million, or 31% more than the top performers over the same frame last year, according to Nielsen EDI. That marked a third straight year-over-year weekend uptick.

In a limited bow, Paramount Vantage unspooled comedy "The Mark Pease Experience," starring Ben Stiller and Jason Schwartzman, in 10 theaters and grossed $3,000, or just $300 per venue.

Freestyle Releasing opened the comedy "My One and Only," starring Renee Zellweger and Kevin Bacon, with two playdates in New York and two in L.A. and grossed $60,708. -- a promising $15,177 per engagement.

IFC Films debuted the crime thriller "Five Minutes of Heaven," starring Liam Neeson and James Nesbitt, in a single New York location and fetched a sturdy $5,200.

Elsewhere in the specialty market, Samuel Goldwyn/IDP's Paul Giamatti starrer "Cold Souls" added 32 theaters for a total 53 and grossed $133,295, or a so-so $2,515 per venue, as cume climbed to $340,068.

Focus Features' Korean vampire pic "Thirst" added three playdates for a total 17 and grossed $31,400, or a thin $1,047 per engagement, with a $1.8 million cume.

The "Basterds" bow was a personal best for Tarantino. His previous top debut came with 2004's "Kill Bill, Vol. 2," which unspooled with $25.1 million en route registering to $66.2 million domestically.

A tale about a fictional band of Jewish-American soldiers in Nazi-occupied France, "Basterds" cost $70 million to produce. But substantial film incentives for the German shoot lowered those expenses significantly.

French actress Melanie Laurent and multihyphenate Eli Roth also figure in its internationally diverse cast. "Basterds" drew opening audiences comprised 58% of males, with 70% of patrons ages 25 or older.

"The (prerelease) tracking said we would be $10 million under this," co-topper Harvey Weinstein said. "But I think the idea of Brad Pitt being a 'Basterd' was funny to people."
Internet trailers and other innovative marketing created an increasing momentum in must-see interest, he said. Female-friendly TV spots helped to build upon Tarantino's core fan base.

"Two words work when it comes to women: Brad Pitt," Weinstein quipped.

It also couldn't have hurt that the film was among those preceded in many theaters by a highly anticipated trailer for James Cameron's "Avatar." "Basterds" now will be watched for signs of sturdy legs, and its reasonably balanced audience support should help.

As for "Shorts" -- whose cast includes William H. Macy, James Spader and Jon Cryer -- "We were hoping for a stronger opening," Warners distribution president Dan Fellman said. "But 60% of the students are still out of school, and we hope we can pick up some of the business during the week."

"Shorts" was acquired for an unspecified modest sum from Media Rights Capital, which produced the pic along with AbuDhabi partners.

"Post Grad" is a Fox Atomic production directed by Vicky Jensen ("Shrek") and starring Alexis Bledel ("Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants") as a recent college grad who moves back home. Michael Keaton plays the dad and Carol Burnett her grandmother.

Montecito Picture Co. was a co-producer on the pic.

Looking ahead, two horror pics are set to open wide Friday: Rob Zombie's "Halloween II" from the Weinsteins and Warners' 3D release "The Final Destination." Also, Focus unspools Ang Lee's "Taking Woodstock" with exclusive engagements Wednesday prior to taking the musical comedy wide Friday.