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`Ghost' burns up weekend record

February 19, 2007|Josh Friedman | Times Staff Writer

After a sluggish start to the year, the movie business is finally firing on all cylinders, with the action flick "Ghost Rider" leading Hollywood to record ticket sales for Presidents Day weekend.

Sony Pictures' story of a hell-blazing, motorcycle-riding vigilante played by Nicolas Cage racked up an estimated $44.5 million through Sunday, the best three-day opening of the year and an all-time high for this holiday weekend.

The film is projected to reach $51 million when today's box office receipts are counted, which would also be a new peak for the four-day period.

Each of the five major new releases, including the family adventure "Bridge to Terabithia," took in more than $10 million through Sunday, helping the industry set overall records and snap out of a six-week slump. U.S. and Canadian totals from Friday through today were likely to reach $185 million, Media by Numbers said.

Rory Bruer, Sony's president of domestic distribution, noted that "Ghost Rider" beat the studio's projections and climbed 12% from Friday to Saturday.

"This played like a summer movie," he said. "It's got it all: excitement, action, humor and special effects."

Averaging more than $12,000 per theater through Sunday, the film skewed male and slightly young. Audiences were estimated by Sony at 62% male and 55% under age 25.

Based on the Marvel comic book character, "Ghost Rider" was produced for an estimated $120 million, but the hefty gamble is likely to pay off big.

Presidents Day is surely becoming a favorite holiday of "Ghost Rider" writer-director Mark Steven Johnson. His last film, "Daredevil," led the industry to set the holiday's previous four-day record of $164 million in 2003.

"Ghost Rider" also got off to a fast start internationally, opening No. 1 in all 21 territories that reported grosses Sunday. Sony estimated foreign grosses of $15.5 million from the 24 countries where the film opened outside the U.S. and Canada, with the biggest takes coming from Russia, Spain, Mexico, Australia and Taiwan.

The studio's father-son drama "The Pursuit of Happyness" also performed well internationally, topping $100 million to date overseas. The movie, starring Will Smith, is expected to end up with about $300 million worldwide.

The fantasy adventure "Bridge to Terabithia," from Walt Disney Co.'s Buena Vista Pictures, finished at No. 2 for the weekend in the U.S. and Canada, grossing $22.1 million through Sunday.

Adapted from the classic novel and produced in collaboration with Walden Media -- the team behind the 2005 blockbuster "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" -- the movie took advantage of sparse competition in the family film market. The audience was estimated as 71% families and 55% female.

"Bridge to Terabithia" should benefit from strong word of mouth as well as its positive reviews, said Chuck Viane, Disney's distribution president. Audiences scored the film highly in exit surveys, he said.

Last weekend's top film, the Eddie Murphy comedy "Norbit," held its own in a crowded market, finishing No. 3. "Norbit" grossed an estimated $16.8 million through Sunday, a drop of 51% from the previous weekend, according to distributor Paramount Pictures.

Three other new films scored solid, if unspectacular, openings as the variety of genres brought customers to theaters.

Warner Bros.' "Music & Lyrics," a romantic comedy starring Hugh Grant and Drew Barrymore, grossed $14 million through Sunday, and $19.5 million in the five days since its Wednesday opening for Valentine's Day.

Lions Gate's "Tyler Perry's Daddy's Little Girls" took in $12.1 million and $17.8 million since also launching Wednesday.

The movie marks a key test for Perry, the Atlanta-based filmmaker who has turned his name into a powerful brand with the low-budget hits "Diary of a Mad Black Woman" in 2005 and "Madea's Family Reunion" last year.

This is the first of his three movies without him -- or his comic alter ego, the feisty Madea character -- on-screen. But Perry wrote and directed the romantic comedy-drama.

"Daddy's Little Girls" didn't open as strongly as his first two films, but it was produced for less than $10 million so it is likely to notch a profit.

Universal Pictures' spy thriller "Breach" opened to $10.4 million. The critically acclaimed film, based on the true story of FBI traitor Robert Hanssen, stars Chris Cooper, Ryan Phillippe and Laura Linney.

Miramax's "The Queen" passed $50 million in its 21st weekend. Star Helen Mirren is the heavy favorite to win best actress at Sunday's Academy Awards, which could give the long-running film a final boost.

The German drama "The Lives of Others," from Sony Pictures Classics, expanded to 32 locations in the U.S. and Canada, averaging a strong $11,000 per theater. It is up for best foreign-language film but faces a competitive field.

Industrywide grosses were up from the same weekend in 2006 for the first time in seven weeks, according to Media by Numbers. Even with the pickup, however, year-to-date attendance and revenue are down slightly from last year's pace.

Next weekend brings another crowded slate with four new releases, including the mystery thriller "The Number 23" from New Line Cinema, starring Jim Carrey.



Box office


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

*--* Movie 3-day gross Total Ghost Rider $44.5 $44.5

Bridge to Terabithia 22.1 22.1

Norbit 16.8 58.9

Music & Lyrics 14.0 19.5

Tyler Perry's Daddy's Little Girls 12.1 17.8

Breach 10.4 10.4

Hannibal Rising 5.5 22.1

Because I Said So 5.0 33.2

The Messengers 3.8 30.5

Night at the Museum 3.7 237.3


Industry totals

*--* 3-day gross Change (in millions) from 2006 $160.0 +23.6%

Year-to-date gross Change (in billions) from 2006 $1.12 -0.3%


Source: Media by Numbers

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