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'District 9' buzz attracts lots of humans

The low-budget sci-fi film and its clever viral marketing campaign scored a box-office hit for Sony.

August 17, 2009|Joe Flint

So much for the dog days of August.

The surprising success of "District 9," a low-budget science-fiction look at apartheid, and a solid opening for "The Time Traveler's Wife" helped lift the box-office take of the top 12 movies to $125.4 million. That's a 12.3% improvement over the same weekend a year earlier and the second weekend in a row that box-office revenue was up from 2008.

"District 9," which was released by Sony Pictures and produced by Peter Jackson, took in about $37 million. That was higher than industry tracking had indicated for the movie, which benefited from good buzz and a clever viral marketing campaign that created a lot of mystery and anticipation for the film.

"You could feel the ground moving," Rory Bruer, president of worldwide distribution for Sony Pictures, said of the pre-release hype for "District 9."

As anticipated, "District 9" drew strongest among men. Its audience was 64% male, and of that, 57% were over age 25.

However, the fact that its Saturday box office was off only 10% from Friday signals that the movie might have staying power and broader appeal.

"There is a tremendous amount of emotion in this film that women will embrace," Bruer said. "It's so much more than a science fiction movie."

While men were visiting "District 9," women flocked to "The Time Traveler's Wife," the Warner Bros. adaptation of the bestselling novel. Starring Rachel McAdams and Eric Bana, the movie took in $19.2 million for third place, behind Paramount's "G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra."

That is a decent opening, but less than what the movie had been tracking last week. Warner Bros. said it hadn't put much stock in estimates that had the movie opening above $20 million.

"There is no reason to assume those numbers were realistic," said Dan Fellman, president of distribution for Warner Bros. "This is way above our expectations."

Fellman noted that "The Time Traveler's Wife" opened stronger than many other recent female-driven movies, including Warner Bros.' "My Sister's Keeper," starring Cameron Diaz.

Although the book was hugely popular, its fantasy elements might have made the leap to screen difficult. Fellman said that although the book's success meant the film's target audience had a strong awareness of the movie, "it doesn't mean they're all coming out on opening weekend."

"G.I. Joe's" assault on the box office slowed dramatically in its second weekend. The movie took in $22.5 million, good enough for a distant second place. Still, it will break the $100-million mark in domestic box office today.

Its nearly 60% drop from its opening weekend might mean the movie doesn't have much juice left.

This weekend will only get tougher with the opening of Quentin Tarantino's highly anticipated "Inglourious Basterds," which will probably pull a lot of young men.

Sony's "Julie & Julia," the cooking comedy that has proved to be a hit with women and older viewers, pulled in a very respectable $12.4 million in its second weekend, which was a drop of less than 40% from its debut.

"It's a very solid hold," Bruer said.

Also opening in limited release was Walt Disney Co.'s "Ponyo," the latest from acclaimed animator Hayao Miyazaki.

It took in an impressive $3.5 million on 927 screens.

"Ponyo" is on track to become Miyazaki's biggest release in the U.S. to date, with Disney expecting it to top the $10 million his "Spirited Away" took in.

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joe.flint@latimes.com

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

WEEKEND BOX OFFICE

Estimated sales in the U.S. and Canada:

*--* -- Movie 3-day gross Percentage Total Days in change from -- (studio) (millions) Last weekend (millions) release 1 District 9 $37.0 NA $37.0 3 -- (Sony) 2 G.I. Joe: The $22.5 -59% $98.8 10 Rise of Cobra -- (Paramount/Spygla ss) 3 The Time $19.2 NA $19.2 3 Traveler's Wife -- (Warner Bros.) 4 Julie & Julia $12.4 -38% $43.7 10 -- (Sony) 5 G-Force $6.9 -30% $99.0 17 -- (Disney) 6 The Goods: Live $5.3 NA $5.3 3 -- Hard, Sell Hard -- (Paramount Vantage) 7 Harry Potter and $5.2 -42% $283.9 33 -- the Half-Blood Prince -- (Warner Bros.) 8 The Ugly Truth $4.5 -33% $77.5 24 (Sony) 9 Ponyo $3.5 NA $3.5 3 -- (Disney) 10 (500) Days of $3.0 -19% $18.0 31 Summer -- (Fox Searchlight) *--*

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Industry totals

*--* 3-day gross Change Year-to-date gross Change (in millions) from 2008 (in billions) from 2008 $125.4 +12.26% $6.86 +6.7% *--*

Sources: Times research and Hollywood.com Box Office

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