SUNDAY AM: I’m told there was some sleight of hand at the box office Friday as the expected No. 1 movie, Clint Eastwood’s Iwo Jima epic Flags Of Our Fathers, finished only No. 3. Instead, Christopher Nolan’s turn-of-the-century period pic about rival magicians appeared in first place thanks to a gripping trailer, a late-breaking TV ad push over the past two weeks, great opening day reviews, and heavy promotion by star Hugh Jackman. (The other co-star was Batman Begins‘ Christian Bale.) Though the 76-year-old Eastwood’s direction won considerable praise (he was recruited to do the film by no less than Steven Spielberg), Flags apparently suffered from its lack of famous actors to drum up box office excitement and its timing in the middle of the worsening Iraq war. It earned $3.8 million Friday and $4 million Saturday from mostly older audiences for what was only a weekend take of $10. mil. Paramount noted today that Flags opened right in line with Eastwood’s Oscar-winning Million Dollar Baby ( $12 mil on 2,000 screens) and Oscar nominated Mystic River ($10 mil on 1,470 screens). But, then, Flags‘ budget and marketing were much more costly than those two smaller Clint-directed pics. Flags did not benefit from the Dreamworks/Paramount strategy to debut in only 1,876 theaters. It could have used the PR value of being the No. 1 movie had it opened wide in 3,000+. Instead, this weekend’s #1 title went to Touchstone / Warner Bros’ The Prestige, which earned $5 mil from 2,281 theaters on Friday and $5.8 mil on Saturday for what was a $14.5 mil weekend. No. 2 was holdover Marty Scorsese’s The Departed which continues to show off its amazing legs at the box office, down only 29% its third weekend out. The Jack Nicholson / Matt Damon / Leo DiCaprio starrer from Warner Bros. made $4.2 mil from 3,005 theaters Friday and a whoping $5.8 mil Saturday (up 40%), for what was another $13.6 mil weekend and a new cume of $77.1 mil. Already, box office gurus are predicting a $125 mil domestic take for this very real Oscar contender, which would be Scorsese’s biggest box office. Another holdover was No. 4, Sony’s Open Season, which jumped up several spots from Friday to Saturday; the animated kiddie fare earned $2.1 mil on Friday and $3.5 mil on Saturday, taking advantage of the rug rat bounce, to finish the weekend with $8 mil for a new $69.6 cume. (Interesting that this pic did more in Week 4 than Fox’s highly touted family film Flicka.) No. 5 was Sony’s Grudge 2; the horror pic earned $2.6 mil Friday and $3.3 mil Saturday in what was another $7.7 mil weekend for a new cume of $31.3 mil. Newcomer Flicka, from 20th Century Fox, fell from 5th place on Friday with $2.6 mil from 2,877 theaters to 6th after Saturday for only a $7.4 mil weekend. No. 7 was Universal’s disappointing holdover Man Of The Year; the Robin Williams starrer took in $2.2 mil Friday for a $7 mil weekend and a new cume of $22.5 mil. Two other movies opened in limited release this weekend: Sony’s revisionist view of Marie Antoinette from director Sophia Coppola and starring Kirsten Dunst made $1.9 mil and $2 mil Saturday from only 859 theaters Friday for what was only a so-so $5.3 mil debut weekend and a disappointing $6,170 per screen average. And Sony / TriStar’s Running With Scissors, with Annette Bening, platformed on only 8 screens and made $66,726 Friday for a $225K starting weekend. The per screen average was an excellent $28,137. Rounding out the Top 10, New Line’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning was No. 9 with $1.1 mil Friday for what was a $3.8 mil weekend for a new $35.9 cume. And #10, Fox’s The Marine, made $3.7 mil its 2nd weekend out for a new cume of $12.5 mil. Finally, it was the 4th “up” weekend in a row compared to last year for domestic box office. Weekends include Sunday estimates.
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