BUSINESS

Led by 'Superbad,' box office is super hot

Even the dog days of August couldn't knock Hollywood's record summer off track this weekend.

Total summer grosses in the United States and Canada hit $4 billion for the first time in history, research firm Media by Numbers estimated Sunday.

"It's a terrific summer," said Rory Bruer, president of domestic distribution at Sony Pictures, whose "Superbad" sold an estimated $18 million in tickets. "It was still an 'up' weekend even though people are getting ready to go back to school, and there's a lot going on."

Even so, the record largely resulted from higher ticket costs -- not the total number of tickets sold. This will be only the sixth-best summer in terms of attendance, Media by Numbers said.

"Superbad," a teens-on-the-make tale starring Jonah Hill and Michael Cera, became the second movie of the summer to repeat at No. 1, after "Spider-Man 3" and "Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End." It fell a fairly modest 46% from its first weekend and is on pace for more than $100 million domestically.

"The Bourne Ultimatum" and "Rush Hour 3," which are both already over $100 million in the U.S., were virtually tied at Nos. 2 and 3 with about $12 million each for the weekend. Studios issue weekend estimates every Sunday morning but final tallies come out the next day.

Three new major films -- the comedies "Mr. Bean's Holiday" and "The Nanny Diaries" and the action thriller "War" -- opened to moderate business in the range of $8 million to $10 million.

The boxing-themed drama "Resurrecting the Champ," costarring Samuel L. Jackson in a critically acclaimed performance, was a major disappointment in its wide launch. It finished outside the top 10 with an estimated $1.8 million.

"Mr. Bean's Holiday," starring British comedian Rowan Atkinson in a sequel to the 1997 film "Bean," is already a worldwide blockbuster. Released overseas earlier this year, it has grossed $189 million outside the U.S. and Canada.

"The Nanny Diaries" is shaping up as another box-office disappointment for screen siren Scarlett Johansson, but Weinstein Co. co-founder Harvey Weinstein said the adaptation of the 2002 bestselling novel could catch on.

" 'Nanny Diaries' played very strongly in big cities," he said, "and we are hoping that word-of-mouth and our increased targeted marketing campaign will build buzz and turnout in smaller markets across the country." MGM is distributing the Weinstein Co. production in the U.S.

Sandwiched between the popcorn blockbusters of summer and the higher-brow Oscar bait of the fall season, late August is typically a soft period at the box office.

This weekend's overall results were up 6% from the same weekend in 2006, when the inspirational football drama "Invincible," starring Mark Wahlberg, led the charts.

With one week to go, this summer's box office in the U.S. and Canada is expected to end up totaling $4.15 billion, according to Media by Numbers.

The long Labor Day weekend will bring the last movies of the 18-week summer season, starting with Wednesday's release of the campy ping-pong comedy "Balls of Fury." Friday's openings include the thriller "Death Sentence" and a remake of the horror classic "Halloween."

The following week brings the first of the fall Oscar hopefuls, including the Russell Crowe western "3:10 to Yuma."

josh.friedman@latimes.com

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