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‘Snakes’ Opening Is Only So-So

Times Staff Writer

After months of media and Internet buzz, “Snakes on a Plane” turned out to be more hype than bite over the weekend.

The high-concept horror flick starring Samuel L. Jackson opened to so-so business, leading the movie industry with an estimated box-office gross of $15.3 million in the U.S. and Canada -- but falling short of sky-high expectations.

“Snakes” averaged $4,290 per theater at 3,555 locations, according to Sunday’s estimate from New Line Cinema Corp., including 10 p.m. Thursday screenings that grossed $1.4 million.

Without the extra bump from those advance showings, “Snakes” would have finished No. 2, behind Sony Pictures’ NASCAR spoof “Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby,” which grossed $14.1 million in its third weekend, bringing its total to $114.7 million.

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The R-rated “Snakes,” whose catchy title spawned a cult following among bloggers that began a year ago, performed about as private tracking surveys had indicated it would. But most online box-office prognosticators, swept up in the fervor surrounding the movie, had predicted an opening weekend ranging from more than $20 million to more than $40 million.

“The expectations were so inflated that no matter what we had done we’d be having conversations about how it should have been better,” said David Tuckerman, New Line’s president of domestic distribution.

Tuckerman said the picture, which cost about $35 million to produce, would be profitable for New Line. More than 90% of audience members in studio surveys rated it “excellent” or “very good,” he said, which bodes well for its box-office prospects in the coming weeks. And he predicted the movie would be a “huge” success on DVD thanks to its loyal following.

“We’re going to make money -- we’re just disappointed that it’s not as much money as we hoped,” Tuckerman said.

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Analyst Brandon Gray, president of BoxOfficeMojo.com, said “Snakes” opened “like your average horror picture in August,” slightly outperforming 2004’s “Anacondas: The Hunt for the Blood Orchid,” which premiered at $12.8 million.

“In regard to the genre and the time of year and the studio’s goals when the picture was greenlighted, it was not that disappointing,” Gray said. “This is an indictment of the hype more than the movie itself.”

He said the picture “was always more of an inside joke among the media, the Internet crowd and the industry itself than something real moviegoers were buzzing about.”

Among other new releases, Universal Pictures’ college comedy “Accepted,” starring Justin Long, opened to an estimated $10.1 million, finishing fourth with a per-theater average of $3,466.

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Although at the low end of expectations, the results were solid enough to validate the studio’s decision to push back the release from a week ago. Universal steered clear of the teenage dance romance “Step Up” and the second weekend of “Talladega Nights.”

“We suspected there would be less competition for the under-17 audience this weekend, and that turned out to be true,” said Nikki Rocco, the studio’s president of domestic distribution.

Made for $23 million, “Accepted” will end up turning a modest profit, she said.

The other wide release, MGM’s Duff sisters comedy “Material Girls,” met projections with a $4.6-million opening, averaging $3,062 per theater.

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In limited release, Yari Film Group’s “The Illusionist” had a solid opening. The period drama starring Edward Norton grossed about $925,000, averaging $18,135 at 51 theaters.

“Talladega Nights,” which dropped only 36% from last weekend, appears headed for a domestic total above $140 million.

Paramount Pictures’ Sept. 11-themed drama “World Trade Center” also held up well, finishing third at the box office. In its second weekend, the Oliver Stone film took in $10.8 million, a drop of 42%, bringing its total to $45 million.

Disney’s sleeper success “Step Up” added $9.9 million, falling 52% in its second weekend and lifting its total to $39.4 million. It slipped to No. 5 this weekend after opening at a surprise No. 2.

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The studio’s biggest hit ever, “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest,” added $5 million, becoming only the seventh movie to top $400 million in the U.S. and Canada.

“Pirates” was also No. 1 overseas for the seventh straight weekend, bringing its worldwide total to $924 million. It will soon pass “The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers” and become the industry’s fourth-highest-grossing film worldwide.

Paramount’s animated “Barnyard: The Original Party Animals” added $7.5 million in its third weekend, slipping only 23%, to raise its total to $46 million.

Fox Searchlight’s “Little Miss Sunshine” cracked the top 10 with a haul of $5.7 million, averaging a robust $8,213 per theater. The offbeat comedy expanded to 691 theaters in its fourth weekend, staying ahead of the pace of other independent hits from recent years such as “Garden State” and “Sideways.”

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Overall, ticket sales trailed the same weekend from a year ago by about 7.5%. Year-to-date revenue of $6.28 billion is up 7% from 2005.

Four pictures open wide next weekend: Warner Bros.’ “Beerfest,” from the Broken Lizard comedy troupe; New Line’s “How to Eat Fried Worms,” based on the classic children’s book; Universal’s “Idlewild,” a period musical starring the OutKast duo; and Disney’s “Invincible,” the latest against-all-odds sports story based on a true story.

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Box office

Preliminary results (in millions) in the U.S. and Canada, based on studio projections:

*--* Movie 3-day gross Total Snakes on a Plane $15.3 $15.3

Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby 14.1 114.7

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World Trade Center 10.8 45.0

Accepted 10.1 10.1

Step Up 9.9 39.4

Barnyard: The Original Party Animals 7.5 46.0

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Little Miss Sunshine 5.7 12.8

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest 5.0 401.1

Material Girls 4.6 4.6

Pulse 3.5 14.7

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Industry total

*--* 3-day gross Change (in millions) from 2005 $105.0 -7.5%

Year-to-date gross Change (in billions) from 2005 $6.28 +7.0%

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*--* Source: Exhibitor Relations Co. Los Angeles Times

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