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Movie’s monster sales set records

Times Staff Writer

A stealth marketing campaign and surprisingly positive reviews propelled Paramount Pictures’ monster movie “Cloverfield” to box-office records with a holiday-weekend opening headed for nearly $50 million over four days.

“Cloverfield” -- whose title and plot were kept under wraps until recently as the studio fueled a viral online promotion -- beat predictions by bringing in more older viewers than expected given the genre and cast of young unknowns.

The audience was 60% male and 45% older than 25, Paramount said Sunday, and the website Rotten Tomatoes said the PG-13 offering got the thumbs-up from 76% of critics.

“The marketing campaign got people talking about the movie but the reviews helped cement their interest in seeing it,” said Rob Moore, the studio’s vice chairman.

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Twentieth Century Fox’s “27 Dresses,” a romantic comedy starring Katherine Heigl, matched industry expectations and came in a distant No. 2 with U.S. and Canadian grosses on track for $27 million through today.

Warner Bros.’ comedy-drama “The Bucket List,” last weekend’s box-office leader starring Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman, held up well in its second weekend of wide release, heading for a No. 3 finish with a four-day gross of about $18 million.

Produced by J.J. Abrams, “Cloverfield,” about a mysterious monster attacking New York, was made for $25 million. It averaged an industry-leading $12,000 per theater and racked up $41 million in its first three days. By Sunday it had set records for January and Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend openings (unadjusted for ticket price inflation).

The 1999 “Star Wars” reissue had owned the January mark with a three-day opening of $35.9 million, and the King weekend record was held by director Ridley Scott’s war drama “Black Hawk Down,” which reeled in $33.6 million over four days in 2002.

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“Cloverfield” is the first movie from Abrams’ Bad Robot Productions in a deal with Paramount, and a pet project of studio Chief Executive Brad Grey.

Viacom Inc.'s Paramount is coming off a year in which it led distributors in market share, though most of its 2007 hits came from its DreamWorks Studios division.

“Cloverfield” was heavily marketed in a campaign that cost “significantly more” than the production itself, Moore said.

Like the 1999 horror movie “The Blair Witch Project,” a low-budget smash whose online marketing campaign was legendary, “Cloverfield” was shot in shaky hand-held style to create a realistic look -- a gimmick some moviegoers can’t stomach.

The AMC theater chain posted an unusual warning outside each of its venues showing the movie: “Due to the filming method used for ‘Cloverfield,’ guests viewing this film may experience side effects associated with motion sickness similar to riding a roller coaster.”

The movie also got off to an “outstanding” start in Australia and five Asian territories, said Andrew Cripps, Paramount’s international president.

“Cloverfield” grossed $4.3 million with No. 1 openings in Australia, Thailand, Hong Kong, Singapore and Malaysia and a No. 2 launch in New Zealand.

Warner Bros.’ Will Smith thriller “I Am Legend” continued to pile up big numbers abroad and topped $500 million worldwide through six weekends.

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The question for “Cloverfield,” after such a highly anticipated opening, is whether it can sustain its momentum in the coming weeks.

Although critics were bullish, Paramount acknowledged that audience survey responses were weaker than expected in light of the turnout. But they noted that “Blair Witch,” a grim tale that also divided viewers, ultimately grossed five times its opening total -- a high box-office multiple.

“Cloverfield” will be profitable even if it does the typical industry multiple of three and goes on to gross $120 million, but if it were to hang as tough as “Blair Witch” it would become a $200-million blockbuster domestically.

“The movie had such a unique profile and high interest level going in,” Moore said. “The question now is, ‘Do other people become aware of it because of all the attention and add another layer of business?’ ”

The two other major new releases vied for female moviegoers.

“27 Dresses” drew an audience that was 3 to 1 female but evenly split over and under age 25, said Chris Aronson, Fox’s senior vice president of domestic distribution.

The one-two punch of “Cloverfield” and “27 Dresses” helped lift industrywide receipts 19% above the same weekend in 2007, according to data firm Media by Numbers.

Though some analysts had expected “27 Dresses” to keep pace with “Cloverfield” or even slay the monster, Aronson said Fox was pleased with its box-office results -- and with solid audience exit survey scores from men and women alike in spite of the comedy’s mixed reviews.

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“It was almost like a summer weekend,” he said. “Both movies reached their intended audiences and the marketplace expanded significantly.”

The crime comedy “Mad Money,” starring Diane Keaton, Queen Latifah and Katie Holmes, also met expectations as the initial release from Overture Films.

The picture, acquired for $6 million, was on pace to gross $9.3 million through four days, said Peter Adee, Overture’s president of marketing, distribution and new media.

The audience was two-thirds female and 65% over age 30.

Adee said he expected ticket sales to ultimately reach $25 million in the U.S. and Canada. The Liberty Media Corp. division has seven more movies planned for release this year.

josh.friedman@latimes.com.

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Box-office results

“Cloverfield” eclipsed expectations with its record-setting launch, while “27 Dresses” and “Mad Money” matched predictions. The romantic drama “Atonement” got a lift from its Golden Globe win as best picture. Outside the top 10, the new Woody Allen movie, “Cassandra’s Dream,” released by Weinstein Co., was headed for a four-day gross of only about $500,000 from 107 theaters. Preliminary results (in millions) in the U.S. and Canada, based on studio projections:

*--* -- Movie 3-day gross Total -- (studio) (millions) (millions) Weeks

1 Cloverfield (Paramount) $41.0 $41.0 1

2 27 Dresses (20th Century Fox) 22.4 22.4 1

3 The Bucket List (Warner Bros.) 15.2 42.7 4

4 Juno (Fox Searchlight) 10.3 85.4 7

5 National Treasure: Book of 8.1 198.0 5 Secrets (Disney)

6 First Sunday (Sony) 7.8 28.5 2

7 Mad Money (Overture) 7.7 7.7 1

8 Alvin and the Chipmunks (20th 7.0 196.4 6 Century Fox)

9 I Am Legend (Warner Bros.) 5.1 247.7 6

10 Atonement (Focus) 4.8 31.9 7 *--*

Industry totals

*--* 3-day gross Change Year-to-date gross Change (in millions) from 2007 (in billions) from 2007 $152.0 +19.0% $0.56 +9.2% *--*

Note: A movie may be shown on more than one screen at each venue.

Source: Media by Numbers


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