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4th time’s a charm for ‘Scary’

Times Staff Writer

“Scary Movie 4,” the horror film franchise with very sarcastic teeth, took a healthy bite out of the weekend box office, earning an estimated $41 million, the Weinstein Co. reported Sunday.

Thanks largely to “Scary’s” strong opening and “Ice Age: The Meltdown’s” staying power, year-to-date box office of $2.3 billion is now about 4% ahead of last year’s total at this time, according to tracking firm Nielsen EDI. The news is sparking cautious optimism as the industry heads into the critical summer season, whose success or failure will be key to whether 2006 is an economically up year.

Weekends in the run-up to “Mission: Impossible III” on May 5 show potential strength, with the horror movie “Silent Hill,” D.C. thriller “The Sentinel” and political comedy “American Dreamz” this Friday, as well as the likely strong second weekend for “Scary Movie 4.”

Split 50-50 between corporate divorces the Weinstein Co. and Disney’s Miramax, “Scary 4" set an Easter weekend record, eclipsing the previous high of $30.1 million for “Panic Room.”

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Not surprisingly, 40% to 45% of the “4" crowd came from the genre’s core audience of 12- to 17-year-olds, with an additional 30% from those in the 17-to-34 group, Bob Weinstein said Sunday.

“It seems to be a renewable franchise,” he said, due to a continuing stream of horror movies that offers fresh material for different jokes as well as a shift from an R rating on the first two to PG-13 for the latter pair.

The first “Scary Movie” remains the highest-grossing of the four, having made $157 million domestically, according to tracking website Boxofficemojo.com. The PG-13 “Scary 3" is second-highest, with $110 million.

And the Weinstein Co. already has an eye to the future for its horror franchise. “We anticipate a No. 5 down the road,” with an opening weekend target date of Easter 2007, according to Weinstein. He said director David Zucker “has come with what we feel is a pretty good idea,” and although Zucker is set to direct “Superhero!” he will likely shift to “Scary Movie 5" with screenwriter Craig Mazin, who worked on “Scary 3" and “4" as well as on the script for “Superhero!”

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The only other new film to make it into the top 10 this weekend was Disney’s animated “The Wild,” whose zoo-animals-on-the-lam plot is remarkably similar to last summer’s hit “Madagascar.” It came in fourth, with about $9.6 million, Disney reported.

Expanding by more than 700 locations to 1,015, Fox Searchlight’s “Thank You for Smoking,” about the audacious exploits of a tobacco industry lobbyist, rose to No. 8, with $4.5 million, from No. 10 last weekend, according to the studio.

Among films in limited release, “La Mujer de Mi Hermano” (My Brother’s Wife), opened with an estimated $1 million in 205 theaters, Lionsgate reported, while the company’s “Hard Candy” made an impressive $30,000 per theater in a pair of venues.

Nicole Holofcener’s “Friends With Money” maintained momentum in its second weekend, with roughly $805,000 and $19,167 per theater, down only about $2,000 per theater from last weekend’s average of $21,000. The 10-day tally for “Friends” is $1.6 million. Miramax’s “Kinky Boots” kicked off with $81,100 in nine theaters, generating about $9,000 per venue.

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Box Office

Preliminary results (in millions) based on studio projections.

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*--* Movie 3-day gross Total Scary Movie 4 $41 $41

Ice Age: The Meltdown 20 147.2

The Benchwarmers 10 36

The Wild 9.6 9.6

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Take the Lead 6.7 22.5

Inside Man 6.3 75.3

Lucky Number Slevin 4.6 14.1

Thank You for Smoking 4.5 11.5

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Failure to Launch 2.6 83.2

V for Vendetta 2.2 66 Source: Nielsen EDI Inc. Los Angeles Times

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