Like it or not, horror pays. Particularly the low-budget, wet kind.
"Hostel," a not particularly well-reviewed R-rated movie about the ooey-gooey consequences for young men lured into the weirdest of lodgings by the promise of easy sex with lusty babes, led the nation's box office with an estimated $20.1 million, according to Lionsgate, the movie's distributor.
It was enough to push overall business for the first weekend of the year ahead of the comparable period last year by 8%, according to box-office tracking service Nielsen EDI Inc.
If Lionsgate projections hold up when actual Sunday numbers become available, "Hostel" will be only the second movie to open the first weekend in January with $20 million or more. On the first weekend of last year, the PG-13 fright-fest "White Noise" broke that ground with $24.1 million.
Although "Hostel" may have seemed to come from out of nowhere -- the studio's head of distribution, Steve Rothenberg, said some theater executives complained that, going into the weekend, they hadn't seen any TV ads -- Lionsgate followed what he described as its "Saw II" strategy of aggressively targeting young men on cable networks MTV, Comedy Central and Spike.
"You don't get a $20-million weekend without a full TV campaign," said Rothenberg, who added that preliminary exit surveys showed that 65% of audiences were under the age of 25 and 60% were male.
Given the movie's Friday figure of about $7.6 million and roughly a 5% drop in business Saturday, three competitors who did not have movies opening over the weekend thought Lionsgate's figure might be a bit optimistic. Their figures -- and studios all receive the same numbers on which they base weekend estimates -- had the movie pulling in from $19.3 million to $19.5 million.
"We're being aggressive with our Sunday estimate," Rothenberg said, expressing confidence that the movie would hit the projected mark with its targeted audience.
In an entirely different realm, Steven Spielberg's "Munich" added more than 900 sites for a total of 1,485 theaters, taking in $7.5 million to land in sixth place, Universal Pictures said, with $25.2 million to date.
"Brokeback Mountain" added 213 theaters to include markets as varied as Tulsa, Okla., and Sacramento, with a weekend total of $5.8 million in ninth place and a total of $22.5 million.
The critically acclaimed presumed Oscar front-runner is now playing in 483 locations.
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Preliminary results (in millions) based on studio projections.
*--* Movie 3-day gross Total Hostel $20.1 $20.1
The Chronicles of Narnia 15.4 247.6
King Kong 12.5 192.5
Fun With Dick and Jane 12.2 81.4
Cheaper by the Dozen 2 8.3 66.4
Munich 7.5 25.2
Memoirs of a Geisha 6.0 39.8
Rumor Has It 5.9 35.4
Brokeback Mountain 5.8 22.5
The Family Stone 4.6 53.2 Source: Nielsen EDI Inc. Los Angeles Times