'The Rite' nabs No. 1 Spot at Weekend Box Office With $15 Million

New Line/Warner Bros.' Anthony Hopkins exorcism pic The Rite opened on the lower end of expectations, but still won the weekend box-office race with an estimated gross of $15 million from 2,985 locations.

Across the board, movies were hurt Friday by another storm in the Northeast, but business rebounded on Saturday and didn't have football to compete with Sunday. While box-office revenues were down 13 percent to 15 percent over last year, those are narrower declines than in other recent weekends.

Paramount and Spyglass' romantic comedy No Strings Attached held better than expected, coming in No. 2 and grossing an estimated $13.7 million from 3,022 theaters for a cume of $39.7 million in its first 10 days, according to Rentrak. The showing reaffirms Natalie Portman's present star status.

CBS Films' action remake The Mechanic, the weekend's other new entry, tied with Sony holdover The Green Hornet for No. 3, each grossing $11.5 million. That pushes Hornet's domestic cume to $78.8 million in its third weekend.

Mechanic, starring Jason Statham, performed on the higher end of industry expectations. Produced by Avi Lerner's Nu Image/Millennium Films, Mechanic is CBS Films' fourth release.

For award favorites, Oscar nominations resulted in a definite box office bump, led by the Weinstein Co.'s The King's Speech, which jumped the $70 million mark domestically and came in No. 5.

Speech, scoring 12 Oscar noms, grossed $11.1 million as it expanded into 2,557 theaters for a cume of $72.2 million. The film, a crossover hit, is now even playing in small towns that don't usually get specialized fare.

Oscar's allure was felt offshore as well. Overseas, Speech took in another $6.3 million in the U.K. and $2.1 million in Australia and New Zealand for a foreign cume of at least $60 million and worldwide total of more than $132 million.

In the U.S., Paramount's True Grit was up 4 percent from the previous weekend, unusual for a film well into its run. The Western, receiving 10 Oscar noms, grossed an estimated $7.6 million from 3,120 theaters for a cume of $148.4 million. Grit placed No. 6.

Internationally, True Grit made its first foreign debut in Australia, where it opened to a stellar $2.3 million from 197 locations for Paramount (Paramount also has rights to King's Speech in Aussie). That was 200% ahead of the opening for No Country for Old Men, also from the Coen brothers.

Coming in No. 8 at the domestic box office, Fox Searchlight's awards frontrunner Black Swan was down only 13% from the previous weekend to jump the $90 million mark on its way to $100 million. The picture grossed an estimated $5.1 million from 2,315 theaters for a cume of $90.7 million.

Swan enjoyed a strong second outing overseas, where it grossed $11.4 million in the U.K., Australia and Germany (the picture was up 10% in Germany). Swan's foreign cume is $29.1 million for a worldwide total of $119.8 million.

Paramount's The Fighter also benefited from its top Oscar noms, coming in No. 9 at the domestic box office and dipping a slim 3 percent from the previous weekend. Film grossed an estimated $4.1 million from 1,914 theaters for a cume of $78.4 million.

Searchlight used top Oscar nominations for 127 Hours to relaunch the film. Hours came in No. 14 as it expanded from 69 to 916 theaters, grossing $2 million for a cume of $13.4 million.

Overseas, Fox rolled out 127 Hours in India, where director Danny Boyle's Slumdog Millionaire was set. Hours grossed $530,000 from 97 screens to come in ahead of all other Hollywood titles and place No. 3 overall. Seven more markets open next weekend, including Spain.

Sony Pictures Classics likewise took Inside Job -- nominated for best documentary -- back into theaters. Film grossed an estimated $122,795 from 250 theaters for a cume of $3.8 million and soft location average of $491.

Roadside Attractions waited until after Oscar nominations to officially launch Javier Bardem starrer Biutiful in 57 theaters in 27 markets, an aggressive push for a foreign-language film. The gamble seemed to work.

Biutiful, nominated for best foreign language picture and best actor, nabbed the highest screen average of the weekend, grossing an estimated $460,916 for a location average of $8,086. Film's cume, including last month's Oscar qualifying run, is $623,226.

Among other limited openers, Lionsgate's From Prada to Nada grossed an estimated $1.1 million as it rolled out in 256 theaters for a theater average of $4,297. Targeting Hispanic females, the film is the first release from Lionsgate and Televisa's Pantelion Films.

Lionsgate exec vice president of distribution David Spitz said 71% of the audience were females, while 70% of the auditorium was over the age of 20.

The Rite also played heavily to Hispanic Catholic markets, with El Paso turning in the biggest grosses.

Film was marketed to Catholic markets at-large, as well.

Dan Fellman, president of domestic distribution for Warner Bros., said miserable weather in Catholic cities like Philadelphia and Boston hurt the film's grosses on Friday. Film was up 14% on Saturday, and received a B CInemaScore, a good grade for the genre.

Rite was split evenly among males and females, but skewed older, with 64% of the audience over the age of 25. Fellman said it played more like a suspense title than a horror pic, explaining the lack of younger females.

"We're very happy that our first film of the year came in at No. 1," Fellman said.

Still, Rite fell well short of the $20.4 million opening for Lionsgate's The Last Exorcism, which drew a younger audience when debuting in August 2010.

An unforeseen twist for The Rite was The Mechanic, which played older than expected. Heading into the weekend, tracking showed younger males to be the strongest quadrant. As it turned out, 64% of the audience was over the age of 25 -- just like The Rite. Mechanic played heavily to men, with males making up 61% of the audience.

Hispanics made up 27% of The Mechanic's audience, another factor that could have impacted Rite.

CBS Film's exec vice president of distribution Steven Friedlander said he believes Mechanic will have strong legs, since it skews so male.

Peter Oberth
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