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Weekend Audiences Flock to `Departed'

Martin Scorsese's crime thriller is No. 1, followed by the `Texas Chainsaw Massacre' prequel.

October 09, 2006|Josh Friedman | Times Staff Writer

Things are looking up at Warner Bros.

After a summer loaded with flops including "Poseidon" and "Lady in the Water," the Burbank studio appeared this weekend to have a badly needed hit on its hands with Martin Scorsese's crime thriller "The Departed."

The critically acclaimed picture, starring Jack Nicholson, Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon and Mark Wahlberg, opened at No. 1 at the weekend box office with a gross of $27 million in the U.S. and Canada, studios estimated Sunday.

"Life is good right now," said Dan Fellman, president of domestic distribution at Warner.

"This is just the beginning of a strong fourth quarter for us," Fellman said. He pointed to a slate including such buzzed-about titles as the animated penguin musical "Happy Feet."

Averaging a robust $8,954 at 3,017 theaters, "The Departed" represented the biggest opening weekend for Scorsese, whose works include "GoodFellas," "Raging Bull" and "Taxi Driver." It was by far his widest release.

Scorsese's best launch had been 1991's "Cape Fear," which opened at $10.3 million. His biggest hit overall was 2004's "The Aviator," which grossed $102.6 million in the U.S. and Canada and $213.7 million worldwide during its full run.

If "The Departed" shows continued strength at the box office, that could boost the R-rated movie's prospects for year-end honors. In turn, the hoopla leading up to awards season could help the film sell more tickets.

Scorsese has not won an Oscar for directing. Handicappers have him in the running again.

"The Departed," which cost about $100 million to produce, will need to hold up well to generate a profit. Warner Bros. has every reason to believe it will.

The studio had feared that its heavy violence could discourage women, but the opening crowds were evenly split along gender lines, Fellman said. The hunk-heavy cast helped draw women of all ages, he said, and those marquee names are sure to help the movie sell tickets overseas.

Warner's corporate sibling at Time Warner Inc., New Line Cinema, took the No. 2 spot at the box office with "Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning." The horror prequel, which reveals the origins of the chain-saw-wielding Leatherface, grossed an estimated $19.2 million, averaging $6,791 at 2,820 theaters.

That compares with a $28.1-million launch for the previous installment of the long-running franchise, the 2003 remake "Texas Chainsaw Massacre." But Russell Schwartz, New Line's president of marketing, said the studio was satisfied with the opening of the new film, noting that its production budget was a modest $16 million.

Sony Pictures' animated animal adventure "Open Season" took the third slot with an estimated $16 million, bringing its total after 10 days to $44.1 million. The movie declined 32% from its first weekend -- the smallest drop in the top 10.

Lions Gate's romantic comedy "Employee of the Month" opened at No. 4 with a gross of $11.8 million. It isn't expected to establish comedian Dane Cook or sexpot Jessica Simpson as box-office powerhouses, but the movie is likely to generate a profit for the low-budget studio.

"This is a big win for us," said Tom Ortenberg, Lions Gate's president of theatrical films. The film cost about $30 million to make and market, he said, and will be "hugely profitable" once worldwide ticket sales and DVD and broadcast revenues are tallied.

Walt Disney Co.'s action adventure "The Guardian" was No. 5 with an estimated $9.6 million, sliding 46% from its launch last weekend. Paramount Pictures' gag-fest "Jackass: Number Two" placed sixth with $6.4 million, boosting its total to $62.7 million.

Weinstein Co. and MGM's comedy "School for Scoundrels" fell 60% in its second weekend -- the steepest drop in the top 10 -- to No. 7 with $3.4 million.

Sony's sports drama "Gridiron Gang" was No. 8 in its fourth weekend, adding $2.3 million to lift its total to $36.6 million. "Jet Li's Fearless" from Universal's Focus Features label slid to No. 9 with $2.2 million.

Yari Film Group's period romance "The Illusionist" hung tough in its eighth weekend, staying in the top 10 with $1.8 million. The movie, which cost an estimated $17 million to produce, has grossed $34.1 million in the U.S. and Canada.

Among limited releases, Miramax's "The Queen" averaged a royal $50,125 at eight theaters. That bodes well for the political drama, which is being rolled out slowly to build word of mouth behind glowing reviews. Star Helen Mirren is seen as a major contender for year-end awards.

New Line's "Little Children," a comic melodrama from director Todd Field, averaged $21,680 at five theaters. The studio hopes to expand the picture nationally early next month as it makes its awards push.

Industrywide, receipts rose an estimated 11.2% from the same weekend a year ago. Year-to-date ticket sales are up 6.3%.

Next weekend's wide releases include the horror sequel "The Grudge 2" from Sony, the Robin Williams vehicle "Man of the Year" from Universal Pictures and 20th Century Fox's thriller "The Marine."



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Box office

Preliminary results (in millions) in the U.S. and Canada, based on studio projections:

*--* Movie 3-day gross Total The Departed $27.0 $27.0

Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning 19.2 19.2

Open Season 16.0 44.1

Employee of the Month 11.8 11.8

The Guardian 9.6 32.4

Jackass: Number Two 6.4 62.7

School for Scoundrels 3.4 14.0

Gridiron Gang 2.3 36.6

Jet Li's Fearless 2.2 21.7

The Illusionist 1.8 34.1


Industry totals

*--* 3-day gross Change (in millions) from 2005 $116.0 +11.2%

Year-to-date gross Change (in billions) from 2005 $7.22 +6.3%


*--* Source: Exhibitor Relations Co. Los Angeles Times


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