Carla Gugino, Dwayne Johnson, AnnaSophia Robb and Alexander Ludwig star… (Ron Phillips / Walt Disney…)
The family adventure movie "Race to Witch Mountain" flew past "Watchmen" and "Last House on the Left" to win the weekend box-office derby, conjuring $25 million in ticket sales to become Walt Disney Co.'s first No. 1 premiere of the year.
Extending a "Witch Mountain" franchise Disney established with two movies in the 1970s, the PG-rated film reunited star Dwayne Johnson and director Andy Fickman, who teamed up in 2007 for Disney's surprise hit "The Game Plan."
Noting that 18% of "Witch Mountain" viewers were couples without children, Disney executives said the movie was solid escapist fare for filmgoers of all ages.
"The idea is to play to the widest possible audience you can," said Chuck Viane, president of distribution for Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures.
The film's opening success contrasted with the narrower audiences for the R-rated "Watchmen," a dark story involving flawed and troubled superheroes, and "Last House," also R-rated, a remake of a brutally violent 1972 horror movie.
According to preliminary figures released Sunday by the studios, "Watchmen," a Warner Bros. picture, took in $18.1 million in its second week in release, bringing its total to $86 million, according to movie data tracker Media by Numbers.
"Last House," from Universal, grossed $14.7 million in its first weekend.
Fox's "Taken" was fourth, selling $6.7 million in tickets to raise its total gross to $126.8 million over seven weeks. Tyler Perry's "Madea Goes to Jail," from Lionsgate, followed in fifth at $5.1 million.
Trailing them were Fox Searchlight's "Slumdog Millionaire" at $5 million, and Sony/Columbia's "Paul Blart: Mall Cop" at $3.1 million.
"Slumdog Millionaire," with a total domestic gross of $132.6 million, and "Paul Blart: Mall Cop," with a total of $137.7 million, are part of this year's spate of long-running hits.
Warner had hoped to join that trend with "Watchmen," directed by Zach Snyder, whose "300" took in $71 million on its opening weekend two years ago and went on to gross more than $210 million in domestic release.
But "Watchmen's" chances for a similar success ebbed as its take in the second weekend dropped 67% from the first weekend, despite its second-place finish.
Still, the film "held better than many had expected with strong midweek grosses," noted Paul Dergarabedian, president of Media by Numbers. The movie took in $3.9 million last Monday, $3.4 million on Tuesday and $2.9 million on Wednesday, Dergarabedian said.
"Last House on the Left," produced on a modest $11-million budget, appeared to be headed for profitability, Universal said in a statement.
It compared "Last House" to the 2006 remake "The Hills Have Eyes," which grossed $15.7 million for its opening three days and went on to record $41.8 million in domestic ticket sales.
Perhaps the most remarkable performance was from "Taken," an action thriller that Dergarabedian called a "silent giant" as it passed the $126-million mark with its ticket sales dropping only 9% in its seventh weekend. The success was due almost entirely to "phenomenal" word of mouth, he said.
"This is the stuff box-office mythology is made of," Dergarabedian said.
"For a wide-release film to do this is almost incomprehensible in terms of box-office statistics."
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Preliminary results in the U.S. and Canada, based on studio projections:
*--* -- Movie 3-day gross Total Weeks -- (studio) (millions) (millions)
1 Race to Witch Mountain (Disney) $25.0 $25.0 1
2 Watchmen (Warner Bros.) 18.1 86.0 2
3 Last House on the Left (Universal) 14.7 14.7 1
4 Taken (Fox) 6.7 126.8 7
5 Madea Goes to Jail (Lionsgate) 5.1 83.2 4
6 Slumdog Millionaire (Fox 5.0 132.6 18 Searchlight)
7 Paul Blart: Mall Cop 3.1 137.7 9 (Sony/Columbia)
8 He's Just Not That Into You 2.9 89.0 6 (Warner Bros.)
9 Coraline (Focus) 2.7 69.1 6
10 Miss March (Fox) 2.3 2.3 1 *--*
*--* 3-day gross Change Year-to-date gross Change (in millions) from 2008 (in billions) from 2008 $100.0 -16.9% $2.1 +14.1% *--*
Source: Media by Numbers
Los Angeles Times