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`Invincible' No. 1 for a Second Weekend

September 05, 2006|Meg James | Times Staff Writer

Walt Disney Co.'s "Invincible" proved to be just that, finishing its second weekend in first place at the box office and illustrating once again that moviegoers have a soft spot for the underdog.

The tale about the NFL's oldest rookie, played by Mark Wahlberg, was expected to score $15.2 million at the domestic box office through Monday.

Burbank-based Disney was also the summer's undisputed box-office champ with the two top-grossing films: "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest" and "Cars," from Disney's Pixar Animation Studios.

Overall, Disney's summer movies raked in about $767 million in North America.

"Our films played extremely well," said Chuck Viane, president of Buena Vista Pictures Distribution. "This is a classic case of the diversity of the lineup and putting films out there that please the widest possible audience."

The Labor Day weekend is Hollywood's unofficial end of summer, and it was a winner. According to box-office tracker Nielsen EDI, this last weekend is on pace to be the second-best Labor Day weekend ever, with an estimated $129 million in ticket sales.

The 2003 holiday weekend holds the record, with $133.9 million in sales.

The summer provided a bright spot for an industry that spent much of last year in a funk. Exhibitor Relations Co. predicted that the summer's slate would gross $3.84 billion domestically, with revenue up 6% compared with last summer. Attendance was up 2.8%.

For the weekend, two new entries finished in second and third place. Lions Gate Entertainment Corp.'s $12-million adrenaline rush "Crank" brought in an estimated $13 million. The movie stars Jason Statham as a hit man who wakes to learn that he has been poisoned and will die unless he can keep his adrenaline going.

Steve Rothenberg, Lions Gate's president of theatrical distribution, said his company was pleased with the performance of "Crank." "It will be a very profitable movie for us," he said.

Coming in third was Warner Bros.' "The Wicker Man," which pulled in about $11.7 million. The remake of the 1973 British cult film stars Nicolas Cage as a policeman who goes to a remote island to help his former girlfriend find her missing daughter.

"Little Miss Sunshine" continued to work its charm, finishing in fourth place with $9.7 million. The movie, about a New Mexico family who travels to Southern California so that the bespectacled 7-year-old daughter can compete in a beauty pageant, played on 1,602 screens in North America and increased its six-week gross to $35.8 million.

"It's really a remarkable number," said Sheila Deloach, general sales manager for Fox Searchlight Pictures, which acquired the movie for a record $10.5 million at the Sundance Film Festival.

"Little Miss Sunshine," Deloach said, has surpassed the six-week totals for other recent breakout independent hits, including "Napoleon Dynamite," "Sideways" and "March of the Penguins."

"It's very strong and holding up very well," Deloach said. "It's the only adult sophisticated comedy out there."

Rounding out the top five, with $8 million, was "The Illusionist," starring Edward Norton as a turn-of-the-century stage magician and Paul Giamatti as a police inspector. The Yari Film Group release, in its third weekend, expanded to 971 screens after starting out small on just 51 screens. It had the highest per-screen average, $8,261, among the top 20. Its cumulative gross is $12.1 million.

"We were able to capitalize on a hungry audience who learned about the movie through an aggressive word-of-mouth campaign," said David Dinerstein, the company's head of theatrical distribution.

Exit polling showed that over the weekend a greater percentage of people under 35 saw the movie, he said. In its first two weeks, the film hit the sweet spot of its target demographic of 35 to 49, Dinerstein said.

He attributed the younger patrons to the popularity of the film's co-star, Jessica Biel, who became famous in the long-running Spelling Television hit "7th Heaven" on the WB network. To recruit younger viewers, the company sponsored an AOL Instant Messenger chat with Biel.

"That brought in the demographic that otherwise might not have given a film like this a chance," Dinerstein said. He said the company's strategy was to try to appeal to the art-house crowd as well as more mainstream moviegoers.

"We wanted to go after a commercial audience," he said.

The weekend's most commercial picture, "Invincible," stars Wahlberg as a teacher and bartender who, at age 30, wins a walk-on position with the 1976 Philadelphia Eagles. Greg Kinnear (who also stars in "Little Miss Sunshine") plays Coach Dick Vermeil. "Invincible" has grossed $37.8 million.

Disney expects the film, based on a true story, to continue to shine in the DVD market, similar to its other sports-themed hits, "The Rookie" with Dennis Quaid and "Remember the Titans" with Denzel Washington.

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