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'Epic' grabs top box-office spot

Spoof film outperforms the action comedy 'Smokin' Aces' in their opening weekend.

January 29, 2007|Josh Friedman | Times Staff Writer

It may not become a blockbuster like the movies it spoofs, but the goofy comedy "Epic Movie" is off to a promising start.

The parody of recent hits including "The Chronicles of Narnia" and "The Da Vinci Code" grossed $19.2 million over the weekend in the U.S. and Canada, according to Sunday's studio estimates.

The 20th Century Fox release topped the box-office charts, outperforming another strong newcomer, the action comedy "Smokin' Aces." It also beat the holdover hit "Night at the Museum" and a mix of highbrow films whose ticket sales were boosted by last week's Oscar nominations.

"The marketing department made great spots and the young people came," said Bert Livingston, senior vice president of distribution at Fox.

"Epic Movie" is a gag-fest in the spirit of "Scary Movie" and "Date Movie." Its writing and directing team of Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer helped create those earlier hits.

With a production budget of less than $25 million, the movie's cast includes Kal Penn, Adam Campbell and Jennifer Coolidge.

It is heading to a profit and could outperform last year's "Date Movie," which grossed $48.6 million domestically during its full run. It's unlikely to reach the level of "Scary Movie," which grossed $157 million in 2000 and spawned three sequels.

"Epic Movie" and the weekend's second-best performer, Universal Pictures' "Smokin' Aces," both averaged more than $6,000 per theater.

But "Epic Movie" had a wider release and benefited from its PG-13 rating. The stylish, over-the-top action flick "Smokin' Aces" is rated R.

"This is a 'hard' R, black comedy and there is a limit to what these films can do," said Nikki Rocco, Universal's president of domestic distribution.

Rocco said writer-director Joe Carnahan's film opened slightly better than the studio expected. With a $17-million production budget, it also will be profitable, she said.

Internet film geeks had been drooling with anticipation ever since the movie's wild trailers debuted online last fall, and the studio has been promoting it to young audiences on the Web with a "Second Life" interactive game.

The plot involves hit men trying to kill a Las Vegas magician-turned-snitch played by Jeremy Piven. The cast includes Ben Affleck, Alicia Keys and Ray Liotta.

Fox's Energizer bunny of a comedy, "Night at the Museum," took third place in its sixth weekend, bringing its total domestic gross to $216.7 million.

Sony Pictures' "Catch and Release," starring Jennifer Garner of the TV series "Alias," opened at No. 4 with $8 million.

Co-financed by Relativity Media at a production cost of about $25 million, the movie marks the feature directing debut of screenwriter Susannah Grant, whose credits include "Erin Brockovich."

"Catch and Release" tells the story of woman who, after the sudden death of her fiance, seeks comfort in his circle of friends. It attracted 72% females.

MGM's "Blood and Chocolate," a horror film about a 19-year-old werewolf played by Agnes Bruckner, scared up a modest $2.1 million at 1,200 theaters, opening at No. 15.

Most Oscar contenders got a lift in ticket sales. The little movie that could win best picture, Fox Searchlight's "Little Miss Sunshine," is mostly gone from theaters, however, but its DVD sales doubled last week.

Among the other nominees for the big one, "The Queen," from Walt Disney Co.'s Miramax Films, expanded in its 18th weekend and grossed $4 million. The political drama received six nods, and its star, Helen Mirren, is favored for best actress.

Warner Bros.' thriller "The Departed" went back into wide play and added $3 million. The October release, directed by Oscar front-runner Martin Scorsese, already had grossed more than $255 million worldwide, making it his biggest hit.

"Babel," which won a Golden Globe for best drama and snagged seven Oscar nominations, was expanded to 1,090 theaters and grossed $2.6 million. Paramount Vantage's multicultural thriller landed with a thud last fall but is getting a new lease on life.

Warner Bros.' World War II saga "Letters from Iwo Jima," Clint Eastwood's companion piece to "Flags of Our Fathers" told from the Japanese point of view, expanded to 415 theaters and grossed $1.7 million, averaging a solid $4,100 per location.

Picturehouse's fantasy "Pan's Labyrinth," which snared a surprising six Oscar nods including best foreign-language film, grossed $4.5 million, averaging a robust $5,500 per theater.

That put it on pace to become the top-grossing Spanish-language film in the U.S. and Canada, said the company's president, Bob Berney. Record-holder "Like Water for Chocolate" grossed $21.7 million in 1993.

Industrywide, year-to-date revenue is up 2.3% from 2006 and attendance has risen 0.1%, according to Media by Numbers.

Next week's releases include Universal's comedy "Because I Said So," starring Diane Keaton and Mandy Moore, and Sony's horror tale "The Messengers."

*

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Box office

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

*--* Movie 3-day gross Total Epic Movie $19.2 $19.2

Smokin' Aces 14.3 14.3

Night at the Museum 9.5 216.7

Catch and Release 8.0 8.0

Stomp the Yard 7.8 50.7

Dreamgirls 6.6 86.7

The Pursuit of Happyness 5.0 152.9

Pan's Labyrinth 4.5 16.3

The Queen 4.0 41.2

The Hitcher 3.6 13.4

*--*

Industry totals

*--* 3-day gross Change (in millions) from 2006 $114.0 -10.0%

Year-to-date gross Change (in billions) from 2006 $0.77 2.3%

*--*

Source: Media by Numbers

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