SATURDAY PM/SUNDAY AM UPDATE: The “Hard-R”-rated comedy Bruno opened to $14.2 million Friday but dropped a huge -37% for $8.8 million Saturday. So, with Sunday’s $7.4M estimate, the movie finished with a $30.4M weekend from its 2,756 North American theaters — better than Universal expected and on par with the studio’s hit 2007 “R”-rated laffer Knocked Up. It’s also more than Sacha Baron Cohen’s first mockumentary Borat (but that played in only 837 venues). “The film WILL be very profitable for the studio,” Universal told the media Sunday. “The opening numbers for the film should be looked at on a global basis based on the territories Uni controls and not just the numbers in North America as Universal has put itself in a strong position to recoup its costs and start to make a return on its investment after the weekend.” Internationally, Bruno grossed an estimated $20M at 1,435 dates in the 8 Universal territories this weekend. Although Sacha’s gay Austrian fashionista (from his HBO Ali G show) received 70% positive reviews on Rotten Tomatoes (but only 53% among top critics), it earned a “C” Cinemascore indicating domestic moviegoers didn’t like what they saw — perhaps because of the unexpectedly in-your-face male genitalia. Exit data showed the audience was 56% to 44% male/female, 46% to 54% under/over 25 years of age, and the main reason given for choosing to see Bruno was the “humor” (74%).

The Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation slammed Bruno for “decreasing the public’s comfort with gay people” by “reinforcing some damaging, hurtful stereotypes”. It turns out that incoming GLAAD president Jarrett Barrios only saw the film Friday, even though Universal had shown it to GLAAD’s outgoing prez. “Unfortunately, the scenes that we had the biggest concerns about remained in the film,” Barrios said. (One shows Bruno in a hot tub with his adopted infant son and two naked men involved in a sex act.) “Scenes like that don’t help America understand the hundreds of thousands of gay families who get up every day, do the carpool then rush home to make dinner and be with their children,” Barrios said. Universal responded with this statement: “We believe the overwhelming majority of the audience will understand and appreciate the film’s inarguably positive intentions.”

No. 2 went to Fox’s Ice Age 3-D: Dawn Of The Dinosaurs with made $8.4M Friday (-51% from a week ago) and an impressive $11M Saturday from 4,102 dates for a $28.5M weekend (just a drop of -22%) and $120.5M cume. Paramount’s Transformers 2: Revenge Of The Fallen was 3rd with another $7.3M Friday and $9.8M Saturday from 4,293 plays for a $24M weekend and humongous $339M domestic cume. No. 4 was Universal’s Public Enemies, down 44% from a week ago for a $14.1M weekend from 3,336 runs and $66.4M cume. Several rival studios don’t think the Michael Mann/Johnny Depp biopic of John Dillinger can make it to $100M domestic, continuing Universal’s string of summer disappointments. But the studio disputes that.

In the 5th spot, Disney’s The Proposal earned a $10.5M weekend from 3,327 dates and $113.7M cume. Warner Bros’ The Hangover was #6 with a $9.9M weekend from 3,002 runs and big $222.7M cume. The opening of Fox’s teen romantic comedy I Love You Beth Cooper was overwhelmed this weekend by Bruno‘s awareness; playing in just 1,858 theaters, it debuted at #7 with $2.3M Friday, then went in the wrong direction (-22%) with $1.6M Saturday for a $5M weekend. At No. 8, Pixar/Disney’s Up made $4.6M this weekend from 2,201 plays for a new $273.7M cume. New Line/Warner Bros’ My Sister’s Keeper eked out a $4.1M weekend for #9 from 2,444 venues with a new $35.7M cume. And, rounding out the Top 10, Sony’s The Taking Of Pelham 123 made $1.6M weekend from 1,116 locations and a $61.5M cume.

Overall, this weekend’s box office was slightly up –1.4% — to $162M compared to last year’s $159.7M.

FRIDAY AM: Sacha Baron Cohen has done it again. Based on $1.6 million in post-midnight shows in nearly 700 theaters this morning, and pre-sales for its weekend release into 2,757 North American theaters, Brüno looks like a big hit for Universal.  “If it holds up, we’ll do $50 million,” one insider tells me. “Yet this is a movie that people may or may not attend spontaneously.” That’s double the $25M to $27M which Universal and even rival studios have been predicting for the mockumentary’s weekend debut. Others tell me that $30+M still seems way more realistic.

Significantly, the studio picked up its portion of the movie’s rights before Sacha’s previous Borat was a bonafide blockbuster. It paid Media Rights Capital, which underwrote the entire cost of the low-budget production, $42.5 million to control 82% of the world distribution of the film in advance of the release of 2006’s Borat, a move that Hollywood openly questioned at the time. Because for that Uni had no creative control over Brüno, no say over budget (it was presented as take-it-or-leave-it). And the studio doesn’t even own the negative. (“Plus,” a source emails me, “Sasha travels like Jay Z with a huge entourage etc, so the expense of the tour alone is huge, not to mention what they’ve spent to market it.”) MRC owns the movie and sold the remaining markets so they are already in profit.

Then again, back when 20th Century Fox opened Borat, Hollywood also questioned whether that studio had left money on the table by suddenly slashing back its release to just 837 theaters cherry-picked in big cities and college towns. The pic went on to make a stunning $26.4M its opening weekend (and went on to earn $128.5M domestic and another $133M foreign), indicating that moviegoers were virtually sitting in the aisles. But Brüno ist no Borat even though the tracking underestimated the wannasee on both films. My question is now whether audiences realize what a “Hard R”-rated movie they’re about to attend. Because there are numerous in-your-face scenes of full frontal male nudity and male genitalia involving Cohen’s Austrian gay character from his HBO Ali G show, all meant to shock moviegoers as much as make them laugh. (I think Sasha’s penis needs its own agent: it should have received at least 2nd billing on Brüno.) But that’s not even hinted at in the heavy television ad rotation. (Though Sasha’s bare-assed antics with Eminem at the MTV awards certainly gave potential filmgoers an eyeful of what was to come…) Will word of mouth be depressed when less accepting areas of the country see this stuff? Believe me when I say that Universal execs had been worrying about this. Nevertheless, the controversy over Brüno‘s portrayal of homosexuals and heterosexuals has only been good for the pic. Not only did Sasha and Universal market the hell out of the controversy, but they even exploited the recent ridiculous pronouncement of the Austrian foreign minister to Great Britain calling for a boycott of the film because it demeans der Fatherland.

Brüno opened day and date overseas in all the territories which Universal controls on this film: English-speaking countries like the UK, Australia, South Africa, as well as Germany, Austria, Belgium and the Netherlands. Media Rights Capital and Sony have the rest. The pic posted a record opening in Australia, for instance. Universal said the final number was $1.6M, making Brüno the 2nd biggest opening day of the year, behind only Transformers 2, and the 3rd best comedy opening in Australia ever, trailing the 2004 Boxing Day opening of Meet the Fockers and last year’s Sex And The City. “Then again, Australia is a progressive country,” one Uni exec noted to me.

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