'Tropic Thunder' dethrones 'Dark Knight'

Comedy grosses $26 million over the weekend

DreamWorks/Paramount's R-rated comedy "Tropic Thunder" rolled into the marketplace as forecast this weekend, with a chart-topping $26 million in estimated first-frame grosses and $37 million since its Wednesday bow.

That finally rousted "The Dark Knight" from atop the domestic heap, as Warner Bros.' Batman sequel finished second over its fifth frame with $16.8 million and a $471.5 million cume. Lucasfilm's "Star Wars: The Clone Wars" -- a Warners-distributed CG-animated feature -- opened in third place with $15.5 million.

New Regency's Fox-distributed horror film "Mirrors" debuted in fourth place with $11.1 million. And Sony's R-rated comedy "Pineapple Express" dropped 57% from its opening session to $10 million in fifth place and a 10-day cume of $62.9 million.

Woody Allen's "Vicky Cristina Barcelona," from MGM and the Weinstein Co., bowed at No. 10 with a solid $3.7 million from a barely wide 692 playdates.

Industrywide, the session's $132 million in collective grosses represented a 2% uptick from the comparable frame a year earlier, according to data service Nielsen EDI.

Seasonal grosses are pacing even with tallies from the record summer 2007 boxoffice at $3.80 billion.

Year to date, 2008 is off 1% from the same portion of last year, at $6.47 billion.

Among the weekend's limited openings, Summit unspooled its 3-D animated feature "Fly Me to the Moon" in 452 theaters -- all 3-D venues -- and grossed $2 million. That was right in line with expectations, and Summit distribution president Richie Fay said he hopes to boost "Moon" playdates as 3-D screens become available.

Overture debuted its drama "Henry Pool Is Here" in 527 locations and grossed $800,000. Any expansion for the Luke Wilson starrer appears unlikely, as its per-theater average was a limp $1,518.

IFC debuted its French-language release "Girl Cut in Two" on two screens and grossed $19,480, or a sturdy $9,740.

Elsewhere in the specialty market, Miramax expanded its period drama "Brideshead Revisited" by 152 theaters for a total of 501 and grossed $746,000 -- or a thin $1,489 per venue -- with a $4.7 million cume.

Freestyle Releasing expanded the wine tale "Bottle Shock" by 69 locations for a total of 117 and grossed $406,313, or a palatable $3,472 per site, with a cume of $850,488.

Paramount Vantage expanded its documentary "American Teen" by 29 playdates to a total of 105 and grossed $102,812, or a light $1,036 per engagement, with a cume of $656,207.

Sony Pictures Classics' drama "Frozen River" added eight theaters for a total of 15 to gross $61,263, or an acceptable $4,084 per venue, with a cume of $256,376.

"Tropic" -- which stars Ben Stiller, Jack Black and Robert Downey Jr. -- drew audiences comprised 57% by males, with a big 67% of patrons 25 or older. Stiller also directed the film and bested his previous biggest opening as a helmer, a $19.8 million bow for 1996's "The Cable Guy," EDI noted.

Execs said there didn't seem to be much impact from a pre-release controversy over a comedy riff in "Tropic" involving a mentally retarded screen character, which drew a protest from advocates for the mentally challenged.

"We're thrilled with the opening, and we're expecting it to play great over the next few weeks with the great reactions to the film," DreamWorks spokesman Chip Sullivan said.

A $90 million production, "Tropic" will have execs hoping for foreign grosses a bit hotter than the usual tepid tallies for American comedies. The big-name cast -- which also includes a much-discussed role by Tom Cruise as a foul-mouthed movie exec -- should help in that mission.

"Dark Knight" -- which until this weekend had topped the domestic boxoffice for four consecutive weekends -- now ranks as the second-best domestic grosser ever, behind the $600.8 million haul for "Titanic" in 1997-98. The Warners film passed 1977's "Star Wars" ($461 million) on Saturday.

"Dark Knight" posted another better-than-expected weekend hold, with a skimpy 36% drop in weekend grosses from the previous session. So Warners -- which previously projected the Christian Bale starrer for a $520 million total domestic gross -- has raised its estimate to $530 million.

"Clone Wars" is being distributed theatrically by Warners rather than longtime "Star Wars" distributor Fox, because the former studio owns the Cartoon Network cable channel, where the "Star Wars" spinoff debuts as a small-screen series next month. Some 66% of opening-weekend audiences for "Clone Wars" were comprised of family moviegoers, with kids under 12 representing 31% of that group and 71% of overall support coming from males.

" 'Clone Wars' was designed to play to a young audience, to acquaint them with 'Star Wars,' and the movie really opened to expectations," Warners distribution president Dan Fellman said.

The R-rated "Mirrors" drew audiences comprised 56% of females, with 60% of its patrons under 25.

"The PG-13s tend to be the better grossers with the younger females," Fox senior vp distribution Chris Aronson said. "But this was definitely an R movie, and the opening was in right in line with reasonable expectations. It was a pretty competitive weekend."

The "Barcelona" bow represented a sturdy per-theater average of $5,369 for the best-reviewed Allen film in decades.

"It was extraordinary in an Olympics weekend," Weinstein Co. co-topper Harvey Weinstein said.

"Barcelona" will broaden in two weekends after the Olympics conclude, he said.

"I think we can do 'Match Point' business and better," Weinstein said.

Mounting a limited bow in late December 2005 and platforming into 2006, "Match Point" rung up $23.2 million in total domestic grosses.

Looking ahead, midweek once again will be marked by a new film opening wide.

This time it will be the Fox comedy "The Rocker" unspooling on Wednesday. The plan continues a recent trend of select distributors seeking to maximize late summer playtime on August releases.

MGM's Ice Cube starrer "The Longshots" opens wide on Friday, along with Universal's actioner "Death Race."