'Limitless' Tops Weekend Box Office With $19 Million

Holdovers "Rango" and "Battle: Los Angeles" beat newcomers "Paul" and "Lincoln Lawyer," which end the weekend in a dead heat.

Bradley Cooper starrer Limitless opened to a better-than-expected $19 million at the North American box office in a boost for Relativity Media’s new foray into domestic distribution.

But business remained soft overall, with revenue down 10% from a year ago. The other new movies -- Lionsgate’s Matthew McConaughey legal thriller The Lincoln Lawyer and Universal’s sci-fi comedy Paul -- grossed $13.4 million and $13.2 million, respectively.

The race between the two won’t be officially decided until Monday, when final numbers are calculated. Still, neither brought in enough to best holdovers Rango and Battle: Los Angeles.

REVIEW: Read THR's review of Limitless

Paramount’s sleeper hit Rango grossed an estimated $15.3 million in its third weekend to come in No. 2, according to Rentrak. The toon fell a respectable 32%, finishing the weekend with a cume of $92.6 million.

Sony’s Battle: L.A. fell 58% in its second weekend to an estimated $14.6 million for a cume of $60.6 million. The sci-fi action pic placed No. 3.

At the specialty box office, Fox Searchlight’s new offering Win Win and Focus Features’ holdover Jane Eyre turned in strong performances.

Directed by Tom McCarthy and debuting at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival, Win Win scored the best theater average of the weekend, debuting to an estimated $153,615 from five theaters in New York and Los Angeles for a location average of $30,723. The performance far outpaced the $86,488 opening of McCarthy’s 2007 film The Visitor.

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Jane Eyre, directed by Cary Fukunaga, expanded into an additional 11 markets and grossed an estimated $477,796 from 26 theaters for a per-screen average of $18,377 and a domestic cume of $730,901. Next weekend, Jane Eyre expands into another 11 markets.

Specialty films, of course, are for adults. What has Hollywood worried is the continued absence of young people from the more commercial side of the multiplex. The weekend was another striking example. A full 85% of Lincoln Lawyer’s audience was over age 25. Of those buying tickets for Limitless, 60% were over 25. Even Paul -- targeting fanboys -- played older, with 58% over that age.

The good news for the trio of new titles — each received a top grade.

Limitless, drawing a B+ CinemaScore, played well across the country and drew an ethnically diverse audience (43% Caucasian and 57% non-Caucasian, including Hispanics, who made up 19%). It also played fairly evenly among genders, with females holding the lead at 53%.

“Bradley Cooper is a movie star, while Robert De Niro is an icon,” Relativity president of theatrical distribution Kyle Davies said. “You add these stars to a film that has a very unique take on the traditional thriller genre, and Limitless became a movie for everyone.”

Directed by Neil Burger (The Illusionist) and written by Leslie Dixon (Hairspray), Limitless tells the story of an unsuccessful writer who takes a top-secret “smart drug” that transforms his life — and attracts shadowy forces.

Limitless cost $30 million to produce, with Relativity already covering most the cost through foreign presales. The film was co-produced by Virgin Produced, the first title from Richard Branson’s production venture.

Overseas, Limitless opened in a handful of markets, including Australia, where it grossed a solid $1.8 million.

Limitless had an advantage over the competition in being rated PG-13. Lincoln Lawyer and Paul were rated R.

Entering the weekend, Lionsgate made waves by becoming the first studio to team with Groupon, offering $6 tickets for Lincoln Lawyer. Rival studios complained the discount could inflate grosses since the Groupon tickets (sold only through Fandango) would be counted at full price.

Of the 200,000 coupons purchased, 40,000 were redeemed, according to Lionsgate. That equals about $320,000 in grosses. However, all but $100,000 was covered by those paying $6, when considering that the average ticket price is $8.

Lionsgate president of distribution David Spitz said the Groupon promotion succeeded. According to a survey, 89% of those redeeming their tickets wouldn’t have gone to see the film were it not for the discount.

“This was a very innovative and efficient way of getting the word out,” Spitz said.

Lincoln Lawyer clicked with its audience, earning an A- CinemaScore. Based on Michael Connelly’s best-selling novel, the film also stars Ryan Phillippe, Marisa Tomei and William H. Macy. Connelly toured to promote the legal thriller.

“Our gross went up 37% from Friday to Saturday. We knew then we had a film that delivered,” Spitz said. “People loved Matthew McConaughey in this, especially women, who really dig him. And it was a great cast. I don’t think there’s been a crime drama like this in a long time.”

Paul, produced by Universal partner Working Title, drew a B+ CinemaScore. Males made up 56% of the audience.

“We were the choice for fanboys, and we opened to expectations. We also had great exit polls,” Universal president of distribution Nikki Rocco said.

Relativity teamed with Universal in co-financing Paul, which cost $40 million to produce and was always intended for a worldwide audience. The raunchy comedy stars British actors Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, while Seth Rogen voices the role of the alien.

Paul has already earned $28 million overseas, with most of the bounty coming in the U.K.

Including its domestic debut, Paul’s worldwide cume is $41.3 million, positioning the film to become a solid performer for Universal. Paul has 53 more foreign territories in which to open.

Elsewhere on the top 10 chart, Warner Bros.’ Red Riding Hood fell 48% in its second weekend to an estimated $7.3 million for a cume of $26 million in its first 10 days. The film placed No. 6.

Disney’s ill-fated Mars Needs Mom continued to struggle, grossing an estimated $5.3 million in its second weekend for a 10-day domestic cume of $15.4 million. Overseas, the motion-capture toon grossed a soft $3.4 million for an international take of $7.8 million and a worldwide total of $23.2 million.

Back at the U.S. specialty box office, Anchor Bay’s mob drama Kill the Irishman grossed an estimated $143,700 from 21 theaters for a location average of $6,842 and a cume of $335,698.

Sony Pictures Classics’ Dutch war film Winter in Wartime opened to an estimated $16,157 from three theaters for a so-so location average of $5,386.

The Metropolitan Opera continued its successful theatrical program The Met: Live in HD on Saturday with a live transmission of Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor. Playing on more than 850 theaters in the U.S., the show grossed $2.2 million. An additional 70,000 people saw it live on 425 screens in 26 countries in Europe and eight in Latin America. The series is now seen in 46 countries in more than 1,500 theaters.