ALIEN NATION! Peter Jackson's Low-Cost 'District 9' Opens #1 With $37M Weekend; 'GI Joe Fights For #2; 'Traveler's Wife' #3

SATURDAY PM/SUNDAY AM UPDATE: Sony is reporting its pick-up of Peter Jackson’s low-budget indie prod District 9 was big — right now $14.2M Friday and $12.6M Saturday (-11%) and a projected $10.1M Sunday from 3,049 theaters. So it’s a $37M weekend, much higher than rivals thought possible, and a great result considering the sci-fi pic’s negative cost is only $30M. Then again, producer Peter Jackson’s name means so much to aged 18-49 moviegoers. Comic-Con geeks and movie critic geezers loved it. It was the #1 most tweeted topic Friday night. And Marc Weinstock’s viral marketing campaign for a year bore no Sony/Tri-Star logo on purpose so it wouldn’t have a big studio’s PR machine feel to it. (As if the audience had organically discovered the pic themselves.) There several web sites tied to the film’s plot and characters, and an outdoor creative campaign (bus benches, bus sides, billboards, etc) that encouraged people to call a toll-free number to report non-human activity. District 9 played to its core male fan base and exit polls show 64% of the opening weekend audience was male and 57% was 25 or older.

This was a Sony pickup for North America and the English-speaking world, and a number of international territories like Italy, Russia, Portugal, Korea, China, Hong Kong, and much of Africa, for $25 million. Russia just opened the movie huge — maybe $4M.

Here’s how the pic went down: District 9 director Neill Blomkamp was supposed to be Peter Jackson’s helmer on Halo, which went down in flames. But Peter and his partner Fran Walsh kept Neill in New Zealand to develop his short film, Alive In Joburg. Jackson then turned it into a hard-cover faux graphic novel. That book went to Peter’s longtime manager Ken Kamins to arrange financing and set it up as a film. Ken made the decision to go indie, and contacted his former colleague and current office space roomie Bill Block, who runs QED Intl (Oliver Stone’s W) which was given first shot to finance foreign pre-sales. Block, being the wily coyote he is, had to commit to fully financing the movie even before AFM was underway. What a risk — because there was no star, no budget, no script. When the deal went down that November 2007 and hit Variety, Peter Schlessel at Sony was on the phone to Block two hours later asking for a meeting the next morning at AFM. the_time_travelers_wife_movie_posterSo Peter looked at the graphic novel, then got on the phone with Amy Pascal and Michael Lynton, who both insisted on a confab with Block that afternoon. Over at AFM, other studios kicked the tires but didn’t buy. Finally Sony picked up the domestic (but through Tri-Star, not Columbia). The result is not just another Amy Pascal pic starring Adam or Will but, according to the 88% positive reviews on Rotten Tomatoes, an imaginative, creative, cutting-edge pic made outside the studio system.

Paramount’s GI Joe: The Rise Of Cobra dropped hard, down -68% (because of last Friday’s $2M midnight shows) for $7M and #3 Friday. But the soldier actioner surged Saturday for $8.9M and #2 for a $22.5M weekend in line with studio estimates. Paramount still thinks it can get to $300M worldwide eventually with a $98.7M domestic cume and $91M foreign cume this weekend.

New Line/Warner Bros’ The Time Traveler’s Wife based on the bestselling book opened to $7.7M and #2 Friday but dropped -17% Saturday for $6.4M and #3. It was a disappointing $19.2M weekend from 2,988 runs. That’s hardly the $25M rival studios expected. (Isn’t it funny how New Line has gone from pumping out testerone to estrogen? But Eric Bana isn’t leading man worthy. Too dull on screen.)

Sony’s #4 Julie & Julia did a $12.4M (-40% from last weekend) neighborhood after making $3.6M Friday and $4.8M Saturday from 2,345 theaters. At one point midday Friday, GI Joe even fell behind Julie & Julia “because its audience is so old they are in bed by 6 PM,” one studio exec quipped. Its cume is $43.6M.

Disney’s secret agent guinea pigs in Jerry Bruckheimer’s first 3-D foray G-Force was #5 with $6.9M weekend and $99M cume.

GoodsPosterWhat the studio is saying is the last of the Paramount Vantage titles, The Goods: Live Hard, Sell Hard, opened to $2M Friday and $1.8M Saturday at 1,838 dates for #6 and a $5.3M weekend. The comedy stars Jeremy Piven and he’s been everywhere plugging it — even on that WWE wrestling horror Raw.

Warner Bros’ Harry Potter And The Half-Blood Prince limped in at #7 with $1.4M Friday and $2M Saturday for a $5.1M weekend for a $283.3M cume. in 8th place, Sony’s Ugly Truth romantic comedy took in $1.4M Friday and $1.7M Saturday for a $4.5M weekend and $77.5M cume.

Disney toon Ponyo is from Japanese filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki in 927 dates and debuted at No. 9 with a $3.5M weekend because the kiddies need something fresh in theaters.

Just slipping into the Top 10 was Fox Searchlight’s 500 Days Of Summer with a $3M weekend and new cume of $17.9M. But even Fox had ahead Sony/Universal’s Funny People which eked out $943K Friday and $1.1M Saturday for also a $3M weekend and very weak $47.9M cume. It looks like $1,700+ separated the two pics. Monday’s actuals will decide it.

Falling out of the Top 10 altogether to No. 13 was Walden Media/Summit Entertainment’s teen musical playing in 2,121 venues, Bandslam. It opened with only $1M Friday despite the fact Summit paired it with the New Moon theatrical trailer teaser from its Twilight Saga franchise. (“Ooooh, that Taylor Lautner is so hunky.” Start gag reflex.) Though its weekend was a disastrous $2.3M from 2,121 theaters, Bandslam is getting great reviews across the country (84% to date on Rotten Tomatoes). But the marketing/packaging was so young that moviegoers think it’s High School Musical when it’s closer to School Of Rock.

Overall, the weekend looks like $130M, up +10% from last year.

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