'Prestige' enchanting at top with $14.8 million opening

Eastwood's 'Flags' unfurls in third place

Christopher Nolan's "The Prestige" beat out Clint Eastwood's "Flags of our Fathers" this past weekend at the North American boxoffice. Buena Vista's tale of two dueling magicians conjured up the top spot, luring in $14.8 million. "Flags," released by Paramount Pictures, raised $10.3 million, landing in third place among the weekend's rankings.

Still, the biggest winner of the frame was Warners itself, because the studio was involved in all three of the top pictures. The distributor co-produced "Flags" with DreamWorks, and it is handling overseas distribution for both "Flags" and "Prestige." It also is a producer and distributor of the second-ranked picture, "The Departed," which held on strong in its third weekend in release with a $13.5 million take and a mere 29% drop-off from the previous weekend. The gangster film's cumulative gross to date stands at a commanding $76.9 million.

The other two new releases, both targeting female moviegoers, found spots in the top 10 as well. 20th Century Fox unleashed the horse tale "Flicka," which trotted to fifth place with a purse of $7.7 million. Sony secured the eighth spot with its moderately sized release of "Marie Antoinette." Opening in 859 theaters, the costume drama directed by Sofia Coppolla grossed $5.4 million in its maiden outing.

"Prestige," the weekend leader, represented a solid win for Nolan, after the director's success in summer 2005 with "Batman Begins." The movie stars two actors who've logged time in superhero mode — Christian Bale of "Batman" and Hugh Jackman, who plays Wolverine in the "X-Men" series — as dueling magicians who fight for each others tricks and for the same girl. Rated PG-13, the period film earned a solid per-theater average of $6,489 in 2,281 theaters. Earning a B ranking by exit pollster CinemaScore, "Prestige" may have a tougher time holding on to its audience during its sophomore session. Drawing an audience that tilted in favor of males over-25, the film drew moviegoers primarily because of its subject matter, with the lead actors offering a secondary reason for audiences to sample the film.

The audience that showed up for "Flags" was even more heavily male (67%) and over 25 (85%), according to CinemaScore. It was drawn to the film both because of its subject matter and its director. And it rewarded the movie with an overall grade of A-. That could bode well for "Flags'" long-term playability, especially if the film figures in the upcoming awards season.

Given all the attention that "Marie" has earned in the fashion magazines in the walk-up to the film's opening, it's no surprise that the movie attracted many more females than males — 69% vs. 31%. Its audience was also older as 70% were 25 and up. The film ended up with an overall grade of C, which could spell trouble for its expansion.

Meanwhile, though Buena Vista's rerelease of "Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas" didn't crack the top 10 — it ranked 12th for the weekend — the movie, sporting a new 3-D look, did turn-away business in the 168 theaters in which it played. Racking up a powerful per-screen average of $19,506, "Christmas" reopened to the tune of $3.3 million.

On an even more exclusive front, Sony Pictures introduced "Running With Scissors," director Ryan Murphy's adaptation of the eccentric memoir by Augusten Burroughs, in eight theaters. The film, which stars an eclectic cast that includes Annette Bening, Brian Cox, Alec Baldwin and Gwyneth Paltrow, picked up $226,108, which amounts to an encouraging per-screen gross of $28,264.

"Infamous," however, the second Truman Capote biopic in a year, didn't pick up any speed during its second weekend of release. The Warner Independent Pictures release, playing in 179 theaters, saw its take drop by 60% as it grossed an additional $179,960.