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`Prestige' materializes at No. 1; `Flags' flutters in third

The magician-based thriller brings in $14.8 million on its opening weekend.

October 23, 2006|Claudia Eller | Times Staff Writer

Walt Disney Co.'s thriller "The Prestige" about rival magicians in London's Victorian era worked some box-office magic as the top performer this weekend, while director Clint Eastwood's World War II drama "Flags of Our Fathers" finished a disappointing third.

Directed by Christopher Nolan, "Prestige" pulled $14.8 million out of the hat in the U.S. and Canada, followed by Martin Scorsese's holdover crime thriller "The Departed" with $13.7 million. "Flags" opened below most industry expectations at $10.2 million.

Stealing the show this weekend, PG-13-rated "The Prestige," starring Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale, drew a young audience. Exit polls showed that 18- to 35-year-olds made up 49% of the audience, the over-35 crowd accounted for 30% and teens the rest. At 2,281 venues, the film averaged $6,496 a screen.

"I think we surprised a lot of people," said Disney's distribution president, Chuck Viane. "For some reason we were picked to be third, even though the director has a fan base and it had the star power."

Viane thinks what put the picture at the top were its strong last-minute reviews, Nolan's devoted following (he directed Bale in "Batman Begins" and made the acclaimed 2000 indie film "Memento") and "what the movie promised" in the studio's well-crafted trailer with highlighted plot twists.

Some industry watchers predicted that Paramount Pictures' "Flags," a heroic tale about six comrades raising the U.S. flag during the battle for Iwo Jima, would storm the weekend ahead of the opposition.

Despite strong reviews, the $90-million film co-financed by Paramount's DreamWorks SKG and Warner Bros. grossed an estimated $10.2 million on 1,876 screens.

Rob Moore, head of Paramount's worldwide marketing and distribution, said the R-rated film debuted below the studio's own estimates. But he said its results mirrored Eastwood's previous movies "Mystic River" and "Million Dollar Baby," which grossed $10.4 million and $12.3 million, respectively, when they went into wide release.

("Million Dollar Baby," which won last year's best picture Oscar, went on to gross $100.4 million domestically, and "Mystic River" grossed $90.1 million).

"Eighty percent of the people who went to the movie were over 30. And that's just not an audience that shows up on opening weekend," said Moore, noting that the audience makeup was 55% male. Because Eastwood's films typically have slower rollouts and skew older than most mainstream releases, Moore said, "they tend to play a lot longer."

The fall is when Hollywood releases its more serious adult fare and competes heavily both for box-office dollars and Oscar attention. So far, the results have produced good news for the movie industry, with year-to-date box-office revenue up 6.7% and attendance up 3.4%.

Audiences continued to show up in earnest for Martin Scorsese's R-rated crime thriller "The Departed," whose box-office results dropped just 28% in its third weekend. It held on to the runner-up spot with an estimated $13.7 million on 3,005 screens.

Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, Jack Nicholson and Mark Wahlberg, the Warner Bros. film has taken in $77 million in three weeks and could upstage Scorsese's 2004 Howard Hughes biopic "The Aviator" (at $102.6 million) as his highest-grossing film domestically.

The weekend's only other wide-release opening was 20th Century Fox's family film "Flicka," which brought in $7.7 million at 2,877 sites, behind Sony Pictures' animated feature "Open Season," which grossed $8 million and has hunted down nearly $70 million to date.

Also aimed at families, Disney's new 3-D version of Tim Burton's 13-year-old musical film "The Nightmare Before Christmas" scared up $3.3 million on 168 screens. In its original 1993 run, the film grossed $50.4 million in the U.S. and Canada.

Among the weekend's other new limited-release entries, Sony Pictures' "Marie Antoinette," a contemporary twist on the story of the French queen from director Sofia Coppola, opened at 859 theaters with an estimated $5.3 million. The film, which received mixed reviews and was booed at this year's Cannes International Film Festival, averaged $6,170 per screen.

Sony also debuted its R-rated "Running With Scissors," a quirky tale about a dysfunctional family starring Annette Bening and Alec Baldwin. The film averaged $28,125 on eight screens for a gross of $225,000.

Meanwhile, Sony's "The Grudge 2" dropped a steep 63% from last weekend. Running neck and neck with "Flicka," the horror film also grossed an estimated $7.7 million on about 300 fewer screens (2,396) than Fox's horse movie.

New Line Cinema's horror prequel "Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning" pulled in $3.9 million in 2,569 theaters in its third weekend. The studio's more highbrow offering, "Little Children," opened on 32 screens with a per-screen average of $8,094.

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