The vampires displayed box-office bite, but overall it was another anemic weekend for Hollywood despite a bevy of new releases.
Receipts were down from a year earler for the fifth straight weekend as a record eight movies opened at, or expanded to, more than 600 theaters across the U.S. and Canada, research company Nielsen EDI said Sunday.
Only escapism managed to cut through the clutter of serious fall fare: Sony Pictures' vampire thriller "30 Days of Night" ranked No. 1 with an estimated $16 million in grosses.
It was followed by the holdover hit comedies "Tyler Perry's Why Did I Get Married?" with $12.1 million and "The Game Plan" with $8.1 million.
"As an industry, we're bludgeoning our audience with serious dramas," said Chris Aronson, senior vice president of distribution at 20th Century Fox. "We already get confronted with politics and bad news on a daily basis."
Audiences mostly shunned a throng of serious, R-rated pictures as the industry's fall slump deepened, including the Halle Berry-Benicio Del Toro redemption saga "Things We Lost in the Fire," which earned strong reviews for its two stars, and the Reese Witherspoon-Jake Gyllenhaal terrorism drama "Rendition," whose notices were mixed.
After a standout summer, overall box-office revenue is down 6% this fall, and attendance has shrunk by 10%, said Media by Numbers, another data tracker.
Analysts had expected "30 Days of Night" to open in the $18-million to $20-million range, based on pre-release consumer tracking surveys, a flashy marketing campaign and the runaway success this year of another film adapted from a graphic novel, the battle epic "300."
But Sony executives expressed pleasure with the opening, saying the modestly budgeted, R-rated flick played to moviegoers looking for sheer chills.
"These vampires are like no vampires I've ever seen before, either in real life or on film," said Sony's domestic distribution president, Rory Bruer, who apparently hangs out with a pretty tough crowd. "You jump out of your seat."
The kidnapping mystery "Gone Baby Gone" fared best among the serious new R-rated films aimed at adult audiences and year-end awards consideration, grossing about $6 million to tentatively place No. 5.
"I'm satisfied, not ecstatic," said Daniel Battsek, president of Miramax Film Corp., an upscale division of Walt Disney Co.
The critically lauded film, directed by Ben Affleck and starring his brother, Casey Affleck, skewed slightly female and to viewers older than 25.
Fox Atomic's sports spoof "The Comebacks" also opened to about $6 million. The PG-13 comedy played to males ages 13 to 18, Aronson said.
"Rendition," which grossed an estimated $4.2 million to place No. 9 for New Line Cinema, suffered because of its geopolitical themes, analysts said. The plot surrounds the U.S. government's controversial tactics in combating terrorism.
Movies exploring the Iraq war or conflicts elsewhere overseas have been commercial disappointments this fall, including the costly thriller "The Kingdom" and the wrenching drama "In the Valley of Elah."
Several new films failed to crack the weekend's top 10 despite wide releases.
"Things We Lost in the Fire" was the second straight box-office dud for the new DreamWorks/Paramount distribution label. Its first release, the raunchy Ben Stiller comedy "The Heartbreak Kid," also came up short of expectations.
"Fire" played well to adult females, a DreamWorks spokesman said.
The studio, which late last week sent unusually early DVD copies to awards voters, hopes that the film can still build a following and garner kudos consideration.
"Sarah Landon and the Paranormal Hour" managed to gross only $560,500 despite opening at 1,121 theaters for Freestyle Releasing. It averaged a paltry $500 per theater.
An animated version of "The Ten Commandments," produced by industry veteran Frank Yablans' Promenade Pictures, also made little box-office dent, mustering a similar $474,560 from 830 theaters.
The congestion will thin out a bit this coming weekend, with only two movies opening wide.
Friday's only major releases are the horror sequel "Saw IV" and the romantic comedy "Dan in Real Life," starring Steve Carell.
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Chills and thrills
"30 Days of Night" opened at the lower end of analysts' expectations, but the vampire thriller adapted from a graphic novel finished first this weekend and looked like a solid, modestly budgeted hit.
"Gone Baby Gone," the critically acclaimed mystery directed by Ben Affleck, may have fared best among the other new releases and could hold up in a crowded marketplace, thanks to strong word of mouth. The sports spoof "The Comebacks" had a nearly identical launch and could end up with a higher tally when official results are released today.
Several wide releases, including the relationship drama "Things We Lost in the Fire" and the thriller "Sarah Landon and the Paranormal Hour," failed to crack the top 10.