'Last Exorcism' tops 'Takers' at No. 1

Separated by only $300,000; 'Avatar' re-release earns $4 mil

Summer's last couple box office sessions often produce solid results for niche pics, and the latest frame has proven to be a textbook case.

Lionsgate's horror pic "The Last Exorcism" bowed at No. 1 in the domestic rankings with more than half of its estimated $21.3 million collected from Latino patrons, while closely behind, Sony Screen Gems' crime thriller "Takers" took the weekend silver medal with a $21 million debut built on core urban support. But the niche riches at the top of the season's penultimate session contrasted sharply with a lackluster tally by winter blockbuster "Avatar," which Fox and James Cameron's Lightstorm Entertainment returned to theaters for a delayed victory lap.

A 171-minute, 3D-only "special edition" of "Avatar" offered in 812 locations rung up $4 million, including $1.6 million from Imax auditoriums, to push the scifi epic's record cumulative boxoffice to $753.8 million domestically. Though its weekend results were less than eye-popping, the 8 1/2-minute longer "Avatar" re-release nicely preps fans of the eco-themed fantasy for Fox Home Entertainment's release in November of special-edition "Avatar" discs featuring even more extra footage.

"We did this for the fans," Fox senior vp distribution Bert Livingston said.

Lionsgate tends to release movies in late summer and fall, when competition from studio tentpoles clears a bit. The minimajor's chart-topping outing with "Exorcism" follows its two weeks at No. 1 with Sylvester Stallone's "The Expendables," which registered $9.5 million during its third frame to push the ensemble actioner's cume to $82 million.

"Everybody is ecstatic," Lionsgate exec vp distribution David Spitz said. "We've never before had two of the top three films in the marketplace."

Directed by Daniel Stamm ("A Necessary Death"), "Exorcism" producers included Eli Roth, creator of the "Hostel" horror franchise. Opening loot dramatically exceeds Lionsgate's low single-digit millions acquisition costs on the pic, which was produced for less than $2 million by Roth and Strike Entertainment with Studio Canal co-financing.

Rated PG-13, "Exorcism" drew audiences comprised 52% of females, with 65% of patrons under age 25. Latino moviegoers represented a whopping 54% of audiences, keying on genre and thematic appeal.

"The exorcism theme touches such a religious chord," said Marc Abraham, a Strike principal along with Thomas A. Bliss and Eric Newman. "Lionsgate knew that and didn't leave a stone unturned. They were terrific."

But in an unusual situation for a horror pic, critics mostly praised "Exorcism," while patrons gave it a rare "D" grade in CinemaScore surveys.

"We were kind of shocked by the score, but I think the boxoffice speaks for itself," Spitz said.

Directed by John Luessenhop ("Lockdown"), "Takers" features an ensemble cast including Chris Brown, Idris Elba, Hayden Christensen, Matt Dillon and others.

Studio execs declined to specify ethnic support, but "Takers" likely split urban audiences by tapping African-American support while "Exorcism" preoccupied Latino moviegoers.

The PG-13 pic attracted audiences comprised 52% of females, with 51% of patrons under age 25. Genre specialists Screen Gems produced "Takers" for an estimated $32 million.

"It's nice to close out summer with another success," Sony distribution president Rory Bruer enthused.

Elsewhere at the multiplexes, the previous frame's five wide openers marked ho-hum second sessions. Fox spoof "Vampires Suck" topped that sophomore class with $5.3 million in sixth place and a $27.9 million cume.

In a limited bow, Music Box unspooled French crime drama "Mesrine: Killer Instinct" in 28 locations in New York, L.A. and San Francisco and grossed $150,000, or a solid $5,357 per site.

IFC Films debuted the French dramatic comedy "Change of Plans" in two New York theaters and registered $16,800, or a sturdy $8,400 per venue.

In a notable expansion, Sony Pictures Classics' dramedy "Get Low" -- starring Robert Duvall, Sissy Spacek and Bill Murray -- added 424 theaters for a total 570 and grossed $1.7 million. That represented an acceptable $3,066 per venue and lifted "Low's" cume to $3.7 million.

Rob Reiner's "Flipped" from Warner Bros. shed three playdates but fetched $730,000 from 26 engagements, or $2,813 per engagement. Cume for the period drama climbed to $674,000.

Collectively, the weekend top 10 rung up $89.5 million, or 19% less than top performers in the same frame last year, Rentrak said.

Looking ahead, three pics bow wide during the Labor Day-stretched final boxoffice session of the summer. Those include Fox's crime actioner "Machete," Warners' romantic comedy "Going the Distance" and Focus Features' George Clooney starrer "The American," which unspools Wednesday to get a two-day jump on the four-day frame.