'Stomp' steps on all comers


"Stomp the Yard," from Sony Pictures and Screen Gems, was the surprise No. 1 film at the North American boxoffice during the Martin Luther King Jr. Day holiday weekend with $26.4 million, knocking 20th Century Fox's "Night at the Museum" from the top spot for the first time in four weeks.

The other new releases didn't perform as strongly, with Universal Pictures' "Alpha Dog" bowing in the sixth spot with an estimated $7.6 million, Buena Vista Pictures' horror film "Primeval" opening at No. 8 to an estimated $7 million and MGM's release of the Weinstein Co.'s "Arthur and the Invisibles" taking the ninth spot with $5.8 million in its opening frame in wide release.

With three holdovers expanding considerably, the new releases were hurt by more competition than they might have initially anticipated. Paramount Pictures added 1,055 theaters to its run of "Dreamgirls," grossing an additional $10.2 million to take the fourth spot. However, during the Friday-to-Sunday portion of the weekend, the film fell slightly when compared with the previous weekend's three-day frame -- a factor that will make the musical's eventual boxoffice take even more dependent on how it performs on the awards circuit. Written and directed by Bill Condon, "Dreamgirls" has grossed $67 million since bowing wide Christmas Day.

In fifth place, Paramount's "Freedom Writers," which had a strong opening bow last weekend, grossed $8.7 million in its sophomore session. The Hilary Swank starrer played in 819 additional theaters, bringing its 11-day cume to $20.1 million.

Universal added 299 theaters to its run of the R-rated "Children of Men," which finished seventh overall. The critically acclaimed film from Alfonso Cuaron grossed an additional $7.4 million, falling 37% from last weekend's three-day number. The Clive Owen starrer has grossed $22 million.

"Museum" and Sony's "The Pursuit of Happyness" continued their phenomenal runs, taking the second and third spots, respectively. "Museum" earned an estimated $21.5 million during the four-day period, putting its total cume at $190 million. The Ben Stiller comedy should cross the $200 million mark this weekend. In third place, "Happyness," starring Will Smith, earned an estimated $11 million in the frame, putting its total at $138 million.

Dance films have a history of performing well in January, with Paramount's "Save the Last Dance" opening to $23.4 million during the same holiday in 2001 and Screen Gems' "You Got Served" bowing at the end of January 2004 to $16 million. But what surprised the industry was how forcefully "Stomp" opened. Many suggested that its all-black cast would skew the film to a smaller, more ethnic opening, but with a per-theater average of $12,872 on 2,051 screens, the PG-13 drama played to a wide swath of the moviegoing public.

"We truly thought we had the goods with this movie, but no one anticipated we'd open to this extent," Sony distribution president Rory Bruer said. "Clint Culpepper of Screen Gems had such a passion for this project, and he really brought it home. We couldn't be more pleased."

According to Bruer, the film earned an A- from CinemaScore, with 90% of the audience planning to recommend it to others. Bruer added that because Sony decided to open the film on the MLK holiday weekend, the studio would donate 2.5% of the gross to the MLK Jr. National Memorial Project Fund to build a national monument in Washington. It's likely the opening weekend will generate close to $700,000 for the fund.

"Alpha Dog" was a low-cost acquisition for Universal that the studio used to fill out its programming slate. It earned $5,890 for the frame on a per-theater basis. "We acquired this for very little money. The per-theater average is really solid, and we are pleased that the picture will be profitable for us," Universal distribution president Nikki Rocco said. "Credit needs to go to (director) Nick Cassavetes. He did an incredible job with the film."

Buena Vista made a strategic decision in moving the release date of "Primeval" to January to get ahead of another crocodile horror movie, the Weinstein Co.'s "Rogue," which is set to bow in March. However, it did go up against "Alpha Dog," which also targeted the younger crowd. As such, "Primeval" bowed in eighth place.

"Being the first crocodile movie was something we thought was important," Buena Vista distribution president Chuck Viane said. "We were a tad light in the female interest, but we did right what the tracking numbers suggested we were going to do."

The Weinstein Co. bowed its live-action/animated film "Invisibles" at 2,247 theaters via an MGM release. The Luc Besson-directed film grossed a disappointing per-theater average of $2,581. The studio acquired the film for less than $10 million.

"With a combination of animation and live action, 'Arthur' is a concept that American family audiences aren't really used to," said Harvey Weinstein, co-head of the Weinstein Co. "We are off to a slow start, but the exit polls are strong -- even stronger than they were on 'Hoodwinked' -- and the word-of-mouth will help us build 'Arthur' into a project with staying power in theaters and additional life on DVD through our Genius brand."

In limited release, Picturehouse expanded "Pan's Labyrinth" to 194 screens. The Spanish-language film continues to do strong business, earning an estimated $2.7 million during the four-day frame for a per-screen average of $14,377. "We're really happy with the expansion; all the new markets opened huge," said Bob Berney, head of Picturehouse. "It's playing really in the fantasy genre, not as a foreign film at all. It's really crossed over."

The indie distributor will expand the film Friday to 500 theaters.

Warners grossed $450,471 for its four-day, 35-location run on Clint Eastwood's "Letters From Iwo Jima." The companion piece to "Flags of Our Fathers" generated a strong per-screen average of $12,871. Its cume stands at $959,400, and Warners will expand this weekend to 320 locations.

Fox Searchlight's "Notes on a Scandal" grossed an estimated $1.9 million for the four-day run. Adding 107 theaters for its third weekend in release, the film, starring Cate Blanchett and Judi Dench, has earned $4.4 million overall. Searchlight intends to open on 600-800 theaters on Jan. 26.

Warner Independent Pictures' "The Painted Veil" also seems to be keeping pace. The film starring Edward Norton and Naomi Watts grossed an estimated $1.2 million for the four-day frame, generating a per-screen average of $6,139 on 202 screens. Its cume stands at $2.8 million.

For the full week ending Thursday, total boxoffice amounted to $172.5 million, just ahead of the $170.8 million collected during the comparable week a year ago; because both weeks represent the first full boxoffice weeks of their respective years, those figures also are the year-to-date totals.