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Miramax makes a killing

Special to The Times

Revenge may be a dish best served cold, according to the Klingon proverb, but apparently a single serving is all moviegoers wanted this weekend, as “Kill Bill Vol. 2" easily beat “The Punisher” for the top place at the box office, according to estimates released Sunday.

For the third major opener, Universal Pictures’ counter-scheduling of female-oriented “Connie and Carla” against the revenge movies stalled.

Miramax Films said the second half of Quentin Tarantino’s homage to Hong Kong action and revenge pictures had a three-day take of $25.6 million after opening on 2,971 screens. That surpasses the weekend debut of “Vol. 1" last October by $3.5 million.

“People are going to see ‘Vol. 2' who hadn’t seen ‘Vol. 1,’ ” said Rick Sands, Miramax’s chief operating officer.

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Sands credits the DVD release of “Vol. 1" on Tuesday and excellent reviews for drawing in more viewers, 56% of whom were between the ages of 18 and 29. Most surprising is the greater representation of females, who made up 40% of the audience.

“Females are going to see [‘Vol. 2'] because there’s less violence,” said Sands. “More older females are going this time,” perhaps attracted by the fact that the character exacting revenge from an array of male and female wrongdoers is a woman, the Bride, played by Uma Thurman.

“Kill Bill Vol. 2,” which is the second half of a single movie rather than a sequel, represents almost pure profit for Miramax. The production budget for both volumes was $55 million, and “Vol. 1" grossed $69.9 million domestically and $108.3 overseas for a total of $178.2 million. Generally speaking, the studio cut of a film’s theatrical gross is roughly half. The profit picture for “Kill Bill” looks even better when you factor in its DVD/VHS release last week. Trade publication Video Business predicted “Vol. 1,” which sold 2 million units its first day, would sell another 2 million units by today for an estimated take of $80 million so far.

“The Punisher,” a violent revenge-themed film based on the Marvel comic book, took in $14 million, although it opened in slightly fewer theaters (2,649) than “Kill Bill.”

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“There’s no way of knowing if ‘Punisher’ hurt ‘Kill Bill’ or ‘Kill Bill’ hurt ‘Punisher,’ ” said Dan Marks of the box office tracking firm Nielsen EDI. “Clearly they were going for the same demographic, young males, so they obviously had some effect on each other.”

Even with its second-place showing, Lions Gate Films’ “The Punisher” should be in good shape because it cost only about $34 million.

The weekend’s other major release, “Connie and Carla,” opened in 13th place with $3.3 million on 1,014 screens. This represents a disappointment for Universal, considering the film’s writer and star, Nia Vardalos, was the creator of the hugely successful independent film “My Big Fat Greek Wedding.”

But the studio pointed out that attendance for “Connie and Carla” rose from Friday to Saturday, with the film doing well among older women, who “can sustain a movie over time with strong word of mouth,” said Marks. “They don’t rush out ... on opening weekend.”

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Considering that a significant portion of “Connie and Carla’s” target demographic -- older females -- opted for “Kill Bill Vol. 2" this weekend, it’s possible they could catch up with “Connie and Carla” in coming weeks, much the way “Wedding” built its grosses over several months.

Among films opening in limited release, the controversial NC-17-rated Ewan McGregor drama “Young Adam” took in $56,976 in nine theaters, for a per-screen average of $6,330.

The weekend’s other big success story, Fox Searchlight’s “Johnson Family Vacation,” made $6.4 million in third place, dropping only 31% in its second week.

“It’s playing as a broad family comedy and there really isn’t anything out there playing as well,” said Steve Gilula, Fox Searchlight distribution president. “It’s playing across the board: young and old, male and female.”

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The Cedric the Entertainer comedy, which cost only about $12 million to produce, has grossed $21.5 million to date. Searchlight added nine screens over the weekend, but Gilula said there aren’t any immediate plans to go wider than the current 1,326 screens.

By contrast, Disney’s “The Alamo” dropped 55% in its second weekend to gross $4 million, bringing the historical drama’s total take to $16.3 million (although corporate offspring Miramax’s strong “Kill Bill” showing was undoubtedly welcome).

Another comedy is on the way. Columbia Pictures’ sneak screenings of “13 Going on 30" on Saturday night seemed promising for the studio, with theaters at 90% capacity and a mostly female audience almost evenly divided between over 25 and under 25. The Jennifer Garner comedy opens Friday.

After reclaiming the No. 1 spot over the Easter weekend, “The Passion of the Christ” dropped to ninth place with an estimated $4.2 million.

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Preliminary results based on studio projections.

*--* Movie 3-daygross Total(millions) Kill Bill Vol. 2 $25.6 $25.6

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The Punisher $14.0 $14.0

Johnson Family Vacation $6.4 $21.5

Hellboy $5.7 $50.4

Home on the Range $5.4 $37.7

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Scooby-Doo 2 $5.1 $72.2

Walking Tall $4.6 $36.6

Ella Enchanted $4.4 $13.8

The Passion $4.2 $360.9

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The Alamo $4.0 $16.3

*--*

Source: Nielsen EDI Inc.

Los Angeles Times

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