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‘Spartans’ wins the battle of theaters

Times Staff Writer

In Hollywood, parody is serious business.

Twentieth Century Fox’s “Meet the Spartans,” a spoof of “300" and other swords-and-sandals epics, topped the weekend box office in the U.S. and Canada with estimated sales of $18.7 million, according to studio estimates Sunday.

The New Regency Pictures production, made on a budget of $18 million, opened at the upper end of expectations and edged out Lions Gate Films and Weinstein Co.'s “Rambo” for No. 1. It looks like another modestly budgeted hit from the team behind “Date Movie” and “Epic Movie,” similar comedies.

Young fans made the difference. An estimated 75% of the crowds at the PG-13-rated “Meet the Spartans” were younger than 25.

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“The kids want to laugh, and they like these parodies because they know the movies being spoofed so well,” said Bert Livingston, Fox’s senior vice president of distribution.

“Meet the Spartans” -- written and directed by Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer, who also helped write the first “Scary Movie” -- poked fun not only at last year’s Spartan battle saga “300" but also at “Spider-Man,” “You Got Served” and pop-culture phenomena such as paparazzi.

Fox’s romantic comedy “27 Dresses,” starring Katherine Heigl, held up firmly in its second weekend to place third with an estimated $13.6 million, down 41% from its debut. Last weekend’s box-office champ, Paramount Pictures’ monster movie “Cloverfield,” plunged 68% from its record-setting holiday weekend to finish fourth with $12.7 million.

The Friedberg-Seltzer comedies have been remarkably consistent performers.

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“Date Movie” and “Epic Movie” both opened at about $19 million and ended up grossing $80 million to $90 million worldwide.

The fourth film in the “Rambo” series drew audiences that were two-thirds male, as expected.

Lions Gate and Weinstein were encouraged that the R-rated “Rambo,” produced for slightly less than $50 million by Nu Image Inc., also attracted teens and young adults. Crowds were estimated at 50% under age 25.

“This augurs well for another chapter in the ‘Rambo’ story,” said Weinstein Co. co-founder Harvey Weinstein, an executive producer on the film.

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If the movie’s 61-year-old star, writer and director, Sylvester Stallone, decides to make a fifth “Rambo” movie, it could unfold stateside, like the 1982 original, “First Blood,” rather than mostly overseas as the last three installments have, Weinstein said.

“Rambo,” which opened about as analysts had projected, probably will wind up grossing $45 million to $50 million domestically. That would be well below 1985’s “Rambo: First Blood Part II” -- the best performer in the series with North American ticket sales of $150 million -- but solid enough to ensure a profit for its distributors once television and DVD sales are included.

Nu Image sold off most overseas theatrical rights to finance the production.

Sony Pictures’ “Untraceable,” starring Diane Lane as an FBI investigator on the trail of a serial killer who posts live video of his next victims online, opened at the upper end of projections with an estimated $11.2 million to round out the top five.

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A 30% bump in business from Friday to Saturday was encouraging, said Rory Bruer, Sony’s president of domestic distribution.

The R-rated thriller was produced by Lakeshore Entertainment and Sony’s Screen Gems division for about $32 million.

With seven movies grossing $10 million or more, the weekend was up about 21% from the same period in 2007, even without a blockbuster performer. Year-to-date, revenue is up 12% and attendance is up 8%, according to data tracker Media by Numbers.

The weekend’s other wide release, Paramount Vantage’s dance drama “How She Move,” opened to $4.2 million, matching modest expectations and falling just shy of the top 10. Vantage bought the movie at last year’s Sundance Film Festival for about $3 million.

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Several movies got boosts from last week’s Oscar nominations.

Fox Searchlight’s quirky comedy “Juno” added $10 million to surge past $100 million altogether in its eighth weekend.

Paramount Vantage and Miramax Films’ “There Will Be Blood,” starring Daniel Day-Lewis as a ruthless oilman, cracked the top 10 by taking in almost $5 million despite playing at fewer than 1,000 theaters. And Focus Features’ drama “Atonement” took in $4 million to reach $38 million through eight weekends.

In limited release, National Geographic Entertainment’s 3-D rock concert movie “U23D” played on 61 screens, averaging a robust $15,500 per theater.

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josh.friedman@latimes.com

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

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Box-office results

The new releases “Meet the Spartans” and “Rambo” paced a strong weekend at the box office, with overall results up about 21% from the same weekend in 2007. Outside the top 10, 20th Century Fox’s “Alvin and the Chipmunks” topped $200 million altogether; Paramount Vantage’s dance drama “How She Move” opened to $4.2 million; and Focus Features’ romantic drama “Atonement” got a boost from its Oscar nominations, taking in $4 million to bring its total to date to about $38 million. Preliminary results (in millions) in the U.S. and Canada, based on studio projections:

*--* Rank Movie 3-day gross Total Weeks - (studio) (millions) (millions) 1 Meet the Spartans - (20th Century Fox) $18.7 $18.7 1 2 Rambo 18.2 18.2 1 - (Lions Gate/Weinstein) 3 27 Dresses 13.6 45.3 2 (20th Century Fox) 4 Cloverfield 12.7 64.3 2 - (Paramount) 5 Untraceable 11.2 11.2 1 (Sony) 6 Juno 10.3 100.2 8 - (Fox Searchlight) 7 The Bucket List 10.2 57.7 5 (Warner Bros.) 8 There Will Be Blood 4.9 14.8 5 - (Paramount Vantage) 9 Natl Treasure: Book 4.7 205.4 6 /Secrets - (Disney) 10 Mad Money 4.6 15.3 2 - (Overture) *--*

Industry totals

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*--* 3-day gross Change Year-to-date gross Change (in millions) from 2007 (in billions) from 2007 $142.0 +20.6% $0.77 +12.4% *--*

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

Source: Media by Numbers


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