'Watchmen' tops, but below expectations

Film takes in $55.7 mil during its opening weekend

The "Watchmen" pot never boiled.

Warner Bros.' much-watched release of the epic-length actioner "Watchmen" wound up topping the domestic boxoffice with a weekend haul estimated at $55.7 million for an opening in the far lower end of pre-release projections.

Directed by Zack Snyder, there had been much speculation over whether "Watchmen" would bow higher than the helmer's ancient Greece actioner "300," which debuted with $70.9 million in March 2007. "Watchmen" had a field free from other wide openers following a high-profile courtroom battle between Warners and Fox for the right to release the cult comic-book adaptation.

Fox will share in up to 8.5% of boxoffice under terms of a court-supervised settlement. Co-financier Paramount holds foreign rights on the pic.

Lionsgate's Tyler Perry comedy "Madea Goes to Jail" took second place on the frame, with its $8.8 million session shaping a $76.5 million cume through three weeks. Fox's leggy Liam Neeson starrer "Taken" took third, with $7.5 million over its sixth frame yielding a $118 million cume.

Fox Searchlight's Oscar magnet "Slumdog Millionaire" finished just outside of the medal positions, with $6.9 million and a $125.4 million cume over its 17th session of a platform campaign.

But Disney's "Jonas Brothers: The 3D Concert" plunged 78% in its second weekend to just $2.8 million in ninth place, shaping a 10-day cume of $16.8 million.

Industrywide, the $121 million weekend marked a 13% improvement over the same frame last year, according to Nielsen EDI.

Year-to-date boxoffice is tracking ahead of the same portion of last year by a deceptively modest 3% -- at $1.75 billion -- due only to seasonal fluctuations in the boxoffice calendar. The industry has bested its year-earlier comparisons in eight of nine weekends thus far this boxoffice year.

In a limited bow, IFC Films unspooled the Swedish drama "Everlasting Moments" in five New York and Los Angeles locations to gross $41,500, or a sturdy $8,300 per site.

Sony Pictures Classics debuted its Russian courtroom drama "12" with five New York and Los Angeles engagements to gross $12,976, or a thin $2,595 per playdate, with a cume of $14,134 since bowing Wednesday.

IFC expanded its Italian mob drama "Gomorrah" by eight locations for a total of 28 and grossed $142,100, or an acceptable $5,075 per site, with a cume of $591,020.

Clocking in with a two-hour, 40-minute running time and bearing an R rating for violence, "Watchmen" features an ensemble cast including Billy Crudup ("The Good Shepherd"), Jackie Earle Haley ("Little Children"), Matthew Goode ("Brideshead Revisted") and Malin Akerman ("The Heartbreak Kid"). A tale about a group of gritty superheroes, "Watchmen" drew mixed reviews while attracting audiences comprised 65% of males and 68% of moviegoers ages 17-34.

The "Watchmen" opening included $5.5 million from 124 Imax giant-screen venues.
But it was clear from the $25.1 million Friday gross for "Watchmen" -- compared with $28.1 million in first-day coin for "300" -- that Snyder wasn't going to notch a personal-best bow. The "Watchmen" bow enjoyed significantly more midnight Thursday shows than "300" and thus was able to pad its Friday tally with $4.6 million in witching-hour admissions vs. $2.5 million in midnight-show grosses for "300."

"All in all, I'm very, very pleased with the opening," Warners distribution president Dan Fellman said.

The picture was clearly disadvantaged by its long running time, with theater operators unable to squeeze in as many daily shows as usual, Fellman said.

Overall, the "Watchmen" opening was the fifth-biggest debut ever for an R-rated film. Attention now will turn to how "Watchmen" -- toting production costs Warners estimated at $120 million -- holds up over its sophomore session.

Three films open wide Friday, but none of them target quite the same audience as ‘Watchmen." The wide openers include Disney's family adventure "Race to Witch Mountain," Universal's horror pic "The Last House on the Left" and Fox's youth comedy "Miss March."