February 5, 2006

‘Stranger’ dials No. 1 at Super Bowl box office

By Dean Goodman

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The new horror remake "When a
Stranger Calls" connected with young thrill-seekers at the
weekend box office in North America, but moviegoing generally
took a back seat to Sunday's Super Bowl showdown.

Meanwhile, last week's Oscar nominations propelled several
contenders up the charts, with front-runner "Brokeback
Mountain" jumping two places to No. 4, a new high.

"When a Stranger Calls," a remake of a 1979 B-movie about a
teenage baby-sitter terrorized by menacing phone calls, sold a
better-than-expected $22 million worth of tickets for the
three-day, Friday-to-Sunday period, according to distributor
Screen Gems.

"Stranger" cost just $15 million to make, and its audience
was primarily women (55 percent) and aged under 21 (58
percent), a demographic not known for watching football games.
The studio had hoped for an opening in the mid-teens.

"It's just one of those edge-of-your-seat-type stories that
totally captures people's imaginations," said Rory Bruer,
president of domestic theatrical distribution at Screen Gems'
parent, Sony Pictures Entertainment.

Screen Gems did not bother trying to capture critics'
imaginations, opting not to screen the picture before it
opened. Studios usually adopt this strategy when they know the
reviews will be bad, or if it's clear that the target audience
will turn out regardless.


The film marks the second No. 1 in three weeks for Screen
Gems, the Sony Corp.-owned studio charged with making
low-budget genre movies. Its previous chart-topper,
"Underworld: Evolution," fell three places to No. 6 with $5.1
million, and has earned $52.8 million to date.

Screen Gems also ruled the Super Bowl weekend last year
with "Boogeyman," which opened to $19 million, and the year
before with "You Got Served" ($16 million).

One other film tried to lure non-football fans, but with
less success. "Something New," a romantic comedy about a black
woman (Sanna Lathan) and a white man (Simon Baker), opened at
No. 7 with $5.0 million, about $1 million short of the
expectations of its General Electric Co.-owned distributor,
Focus Features.

Last weekend's champion, the Martin Lawrence comedy sequel
"Big Momma's House 2" slipped to No. 2 with $13.4 million. The
10-day haul for the picture stands at $45.4 million. It was
released by 20th Century Fox, a unit of News Corp.

The Emma Thompson comedy "Nanny McPhee" slipped one place
to No. 3 with $9.9 million, for a 10-day tally of $26.6
million. It was released by GE's Universal Pictures.


Focus Features' "Brokeback Mountain," which picked up eight
nominations including best picture when Oscar contenders were
announced on Tuesday, tallied $5.7 million in its ninth
weekend. Focus took advantage of the tidings to boost the
gay-cowboy romance's theater count to 2,089 theaters from 1,654
theaters. Its sales total rose to $59.8 million.

Even though it failed to secure a best-picture Oscar
nomination, the Johnny Cash movie "Walk the Line" jumped three
places to No. 9 with $3.4 million, thanks to nods for its stars
Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon. After 12 weeks, the Fox
release has earned $110 million.

As for the other best-picture nominees still playing in
theaters, "Capote," "Munich," and "Good Night, and Good Luck,"
none vaulted into the top 10, but they all enjoyed healthy
bumps after increasing their theater counts.

Sony's "Capote," which stars Oscar nominee Philip Seymour
Hoffman as novelist Truman Capote, grossed $2.5 million, after
boosting its theater count by 914 to 1,239. Its total rose to
$18.2 million after 19 weeks.

Steven Spielberg's terrorist thriller "Munich," somewhat of
a box office disappointment for Universal Pictures, earned $1.9
million, taking its haul to $43.1 million after seven weeks.

"Good Night, and Good Luck," directed by triple-nominee
George Clooney, tallied $1.5 million, exceeding its combined
sales from the previous six weekends. Its total rose to $26.7
million. The film was released by Warner Independent Pictures,
a unit of Time Warner Inc.