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‘Game Plan’ scores top spot

Times Staff Writer

“The Game Plan” went off without a hitch.

Walt Disney Co.'s PG-rated comedy, starring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson as an NFL quarterback who discovers he has a 7-year-old daughter, topped the weekend box office with an estimated $22.7 million in U.S. and Canadian ticket sales, the studio said Sunday.

“The movie has played across all audience groups -- not just families and little girls,” said Mark Zoradi, president of Disney’s motion picture group. “The release period also helps, because all the other top films in the marketplace are rated R.”

About two-thirds of the audience for “The Game Plan” was families, while teenagers and unaccompanied couples accounted for the other one-third, Disney said.

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The film’s stronger-than-expected opening left Universal Pictures’ thriller “The Kingdom,” starring Jamie Foxx and Jennifer Garner, second with $17.7 million. Last weekend’s top movie, the science-fiction saga “Resident Evil: Extinction” from Sony Pictures’ Screen Gems division, plunged 66% to finish third with $8 million.

“The Game Plan” and “The Kingdom” had both been expected to open in the high teens, vying for the top spot.

“The Kingdom,” about an FBI team investigating a bombing in Saudi Arabia, is rated R, as are “Resident Evil” and the next three pictures on the box-office chart this week. A number of other smaller films with the restrictive rating are also being rolled out by studios and specialty distributors in hopes of attracting adult customers and awards consideration.

“The Kingdom” posted a “solid number” considering its “challenging subject matter,” said Nikki Rocco, Universal’s president of domestic distribution. The big-budget thriller played to an adult audience, with two-thirds of customers over age 30.

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Though reviews from critics have been mixed, more than 95% of moviegoers rated it “excellent” or “very good” in the studio’s surveys, Rocco said, which bodes well for its prospects in the coming weeks.

The success of “The Game Plan” further establishes the retired pro wrestler Johnson as a box-office force with broad appeal. Though he has a background in comedy, the beefy Johnson has been best known to film fans for his action pictures such as “The Scorpion King.”

The star’s relentless efforts to promote the new movie on talk shows and through other interviews helped it break through, Zoradi said.

The weekend’s other wide release, the romantic drama “Feast of Love” from Lakeshore Entertainment and distributor Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Inc., grossed an estimated $1.7 million, less than industry expectations. The film, starring Morgan Freeman, narrowly missed the top 10.

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Among holdovers, filmmaker Julie Taymor’s romantic musical “Across the Universe” from Sony Pictures continued to play strongly. It cracked the top 10 in its third weekend with $2.1 million, despite showing at only 339 theaters.

Two other prestige films had impressive launches, although the true test for both will come in broader release.

Quirky hipster Wes Anderson’s “The Darjeeling Limited,” starring the recently hospitalized Owen Wilson along with Adrien Brody and Jason Schwartzman, averaged a stellar $70,000 at two New York theaters for Fox Searchlight.

Oscar winner Ang Lee’s romantic drama “Lust, Caution,” whose performance could be a bellwether for future NC-17 releases, hauled in $62,000 at one location.

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For years, exhibitors have been reluctant to play movies with the NC-17 tag, which is usually associated with sexually explicit or extremely violent material. But Universal’s Focus Features arm believes the latest effort from art-house favorite Lee might help break that stigma.

In its second weekend, the critically acclaimed adventure “Into the Wild,” directed by Sean Penn, held up well. Based on the bestseller, the picture averaged $20,000 per theater at 33 locations for Paramount Vantage.

Despite solid results from several fall releases, industrywide receipts were down from 2006 for the second straight weekend, according to research firm Media by Numbers. Because of the banner summer season, however, year-to-date revenue is up 7.3% and attendance is up 2.6%.

Although Hollywood is off to a tepid start this fall, the Farrelly brothers’ comedy “The Heartbreak Kid,” opening Friday, has the look of a big hit for Paramount Pictures.

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josh.friedman@latimes.com


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