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Movie studios enjoy strong weekend at the box office

Overall ticket sales surge 41% from a year ago as the top three movies -- Warner Bros.' 'Where the Wild Things Are,' Overture's 'Law Abiding Citizen' and Paramount's 'Paranormal' -- play extremely well.

October 19, 2009|Ben Fritz

For most movies, bigger-than-expected Thursday midnight shows are a great start to an opening weekend. For "Where the Wild Things Are," they may have been a mixed blessing.

Warner Bros.' adaptation of the classic children's book collected $700,000 before the sun rose Friday, a sign that positive reviews and nostalgia were driving strong interest from adults, particularly younger ones. The flip side is that despite the movie's PG rating, families with children younger than 12 made up only 43% of the audience. Adults 18 and older made up the same percentage, with teenagers accounting for the rest.

Dramatic evidence of that trend came Saturday, when "Wild Things" ticket sales rose only 2% from Friday. Family movies usually see a big boost in Saturday grosses as parents take kids to matinees. For "Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs," for instance, the jump was 62%.

"With adults it's doing extremely well and with families, it's mixed depending upon the taste of the family," said Dan Fellman, president of domestic distribution for Warner Bros.

On the bottom line, there was little for major studios to complain about this weekend. "Wild Things" opened to a solid $32.5 million in the U.S. and Canada, according to studio estimates, while overall ticket sales surged 41% from a year ago as "Paranormal Activity" and "Law Abiding Citizen" played extremely well.

"The box office really blew up this weekend," said Kyle Davies, head of distribution for Overture Films, which distributed "Law Abiding Citizen."

But coming in No. 1 on such a strong weekend may not be enough to reassure backers of "Wild Things," which cost about $100 million to make and was delayed by a year because of reshooting.

A bigger family audience would probably indicate that the movie was on its way to hit status, since films successful with families tend to decline much more slowly than ones popular with young adults.

Despite that, Warner Bros. spent a significant chunk of its "Wild Things" marketing budget on adults, apparently accepting the view held by many critics that director Spike Jonze's adaptation was too morose for those the same age as the movie's protagonist.

Warner Bros. paid for 25% of the film, Village Roadshow Pictures covered 50% and Legendary Pictures took care of the balance. The financiers benefited from foreign tax incentives that brought the movie's net cost down to $80 million.

Moviegoers who saw "Wild Things" gave it an average grade of B-plus, according to market research firm CinemaScore, indicating that the film should have good buzz. Depending on how quickly it declines, "Wild Things" could end up with a disappointing domestic gross of about $70 million or be a success with $100 million or more.

"We're thrilled at our No. 1 opening on such a busy weekend," Fellman said. "It's going to take another week until we figure it all out."

There's no reason for hesitation at Paramount Pictures, which saw its ultra-low-budget horror flick "Paranormal Activity" continue to dominate the box office, grossing $20.2 million and landing at No. 3 for the weekend despite playing at far fewer theaters than any other movie in the top 10.

After four weeks, the first two of which the movie played only midnight shows in a small number of cities, "Paranormal" has collected $33.7 million. This Friday the movie will expand to more than 1,800 locations nationwide, potentially creating problems for Lionsgate's horror movie "Saw VI," which opens the same day.

Coming in just ahead of "Paranormal" was "Law Abiding Citizen." The thriller, distributed by Overture Films and financed by the Film Department, grossed $21.3 million, a good start given its $50-million production budget. Despite polling that indicated it would play primarily to older males, audiences were diverse, which helped to give the movie better-than-expected traction.

Sony Pictures executives were concerned about the fate of horror film "The Stepfather" with "Paranormal Activity" sucking up interest in the genre this weekend, but it ended up with a decent $12.3 million. The remake by the studio's Screen Gems label cost just under $20 million to produce.

Walt Disney's "Up" continues to perform extremely well overseas. It earned $27.9 million this weekend and opened at No. 1 in Italy, Poland, Sweden, Hungary and Turkey. "Up," which has grossed $296 million internationally and $588 million worldwide, has yet to debut in Japan, traditionally a big market for animated movies.

In limited release domestically, Focus Features' "A Serious Man" and Sony Pictures Classics' "An Education" stayed strong as they expanded this weekend, collecting $860,257 at 82 theaters and $266,044 at 19, respectively.

Apparition's blaxploitation comedy "Black Dynamite" opened to a dismal $140,986 at 70 locations. Vivendi Entertainment did slightly better with the anthology "New York, I Love You," which collected $380,000 from 119 theaters in its debut.

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ben.fritz@latimes.com

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

WEEKEND BOX OFFICE

Estimated sales in the U.S. and Canada:

*--* -- Movie 3-day gross Pe Total Days in rc en ta ge ch an ge -- (studio) (millions) fr (millions) release om la st we ek en d 1 Where the Wild Things Are $32.5 NA $32.5 3 -- (Warner Bros./Village Roadshow/Legendary) 2 Law Abiding Citizen 21.3 NA 21.3 3 -- (Overture/Film Department) 3 Paranormal Activity 20.2 +1 33.7 24 55 -- (Paramount) 4 Couples Retreat 17.9 -48 63.3 10 -- (Universal/Relativity) 5 The Stepfather 12.3 NA 12.3 3 -- (Sony) 6 Cloudy With a Chance of 8.1 -30 108.3 31 Meatballs -- (Sony) 7 Zombieland 7.8 -47 60.8 17 -- (Sony/Relativity) 8 Toy Story and Toy Story 2 3.0 -61 28.6 17 3-D -- (Disney) 9 Surrogates 1.9 -55 36.3 24 -- (Disney) 10 The Invention of Lying 1.9 -43 15.5 17 -- (Warner Bros.) *--*

Industry totals

*--* 3-day gross Change Year-to-date gross Change (in millions) from 2008 (in billions) from 2008 $141.0 +41.1% $8.28 +7.9% *--*

Sources: Times research and Hollywood.com Box-Office

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