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`Stomp' steps into top spot at box office

The small-budget movie brings in an estimated $22 million during its opening weekend.

January 15, 2007|Josh Friedman | Times Staff Writer

"Stomp the Yard" stepped all over the competition at the movie box office this weekend, becoming the latest low-budget dance drama with a little-known cast to stun Hollywood with its success.

Released through Sony Pictures' Screen Gems label, the $14-million production grossed $22 million in the U.S. and Canada, according to Sunday's three-day studio estimates.

It knocked 20th Century Fox's "Night at the Museum" from the top spot after three weeks, although that comic fantasy starring Ben Stiller added $17.1 million for a solid No. 2 showing.

"This exceeded even our expectations," said Rory Bruer, Sony's president of domestic distribution. "This movie has tremendous energy and great heart, and when you watch it with an audience it's infectious."

With a cast including Columbus Short, Meagan Good and R&B singer Ne-Yo, "Stomp the Yard" tells the story of a troubled newcomer to a historically black Atlanta university whose unique style helps his fraternity compete in a step-dancing contest.

The audience was estimated at 59% female and 62% adult. In exit surveys, 89% rated it excellent or very good, which bodes well for the film's word of mouth.

Like the horror genre, music and dance dramas appeal to Hollywood studios because they tend to be relatively cheap to make and can become breakout hits when they click.

Twentieth Century Fox's $20-million production "Drumline," released in late 2002, grossed $56.4 million domestically during its full run.

In 2004, Screen Gems' $8-million production "You Got Served" grossed $40.4 million domestically.

And last August, Walt Disney Co.'s $12-million production "Step Up" grossed $65.3 million.

"Night at the Museum" was a far costlier wager for Fox, but the comedy is approaching a blockbuster domestic gross of $200 million.

Meanwhile, the weekend's No. 3 picture, Sony's Will Smith drama "The Pursuit of Happyness," is nearing $150 million through five weeks.

Paramount Pictures and DreamWorks' musical "Dreamgirls" slowed a bit in its fifth weekend. The heavily marketed and critically acclaimed film finished No. 4 but declined in business despite more than doubling its theater count.

After expanding to 1,907 engagements, "Dreamgirls" averaged $4,259 per theater -- down sharply from a week ago.

That's because "Dreamgirls" opened in smaller markets where musicals are typically a tougher sell, said Rob Moore, the studio's president of worldwide marketing and distribution.

"Our assumption has always been that the awards season will catapult us in the small and medium-size markets," Moore said. "People will see, 'Oh this is a movie for me.' "

The studio is hoping for a major stamp of approval at tonight's Golden Globe awards, where "Dreamgirls" is a slight favorite for best comedy or musical but faces "Borat" and "Little Miss Sunshine," and at next week's Academy Award nominations, where it could get several nods.

"Dreamgirls" is headed for a domestic total above $100 million, Paramount said. But it may need a strong awards showing to reach the neighborhood of "Chicago," the 2002 Oscar winner that grossed $171 million.

Among the other new releases, Universal Pictures' gritty crime drama "Alpha Dog" and Disney's horror film "Primeval" fared as expected, grossing about $6 million apiece.

"Alpha Dog," whose ensemble cast features Justin Timberlake, drew an audience skewing young and female. "Primeval" skewed young and slightly female, like many horror movies.

Weinstein Co. and MGM's "Arthur and the Invisibles," a big-budget family film that combines animation and live action, opened to a disappointing $4.3 million. Weinstein Co. co-founder Harvey Weinstein said that despite its slow start, the movie received audience exit poll scores higher than last year's hit "Hoodwinked."

"The word of mouth will help us build 'Arthur' into a project with staying power in theaters and additional life on DVD," Weinstein said.

Two rollouts on the art house circuit, Fox Searchlight's "Notes on a Scandal" and Picturehouse's "Pan's Labyrinth," continued to play well.

"Pan's Labyrinth," among the Golden Globe contenders for best foreign-language film, averaged $10,682 per theater after widening to 194 engagements.

Riding positive buzz for stars Judi Dench and Cate Blanchett, "Notes on a Scandal" averaged $8,125 per theater after expanding to 200 locations.

Industrywide, business was flat with the holiday weekend a year ago. Year-to-date, revenue is up about 4% and attendance has risen about 2%.

Next weekend's new releases include Focus Features' horror thriller "The Hitcher," a remake of the 1986 cult classic.

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