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Company Town: ‘The Social Network’ wins most popular again at box office

Despite three new movies over the weekend, audiences mostly stayed with the familiar.

Proving that its buzz wasn’t short-lived, Facebook movie “The Social Network” topped the box office for the second weekend in a row, with ticket sales down a small 31% from its debut at $15.5 million, according to an estimate from distributor Sony Pictures.

Of the new pictures, the Katherine Heigl- Josh Duhamel romantic comedy “Life As We Know It” performed best, bringing in a so-so $14.6 million. The inspirational horse racing drama “Secretariat” was slow out of the gate with a soft $12.6 million. And veteran horror director Wes Craven’s latest work, “My Soul to Take,” flopped with just $6.9 million.

With nothing new generating enthusiasm, it was a slow overall weekend at movie theaters. Total receipts were down 15% from the weekend before Columbus Day last year, according to Hollywood.com.

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“If the same money as last year was in the pot this year, everybody would be thrilled, but not as many people came to the movies,” said Chuck Viane, Walt Disney Studios’ distribution president.

Popular college football games and baseball playoffs may have been factors. But it was also true that none of the new films caught on with young audiences, which often drive big box-office receipts. Instead, “Life As We Know It” and “Secretariat” competed for the adult female demographic, which are historically tougher to attract.

After “The Social Network” opened to a solid $22.4 million last weekend, distributor Sony Pictures was hopeful that it would be a “must-see” film. However, some in Hollywood had questioned whether the picture would show any strength beyond the audiences in big cities who made up most of the opening crowd.

Sony was proved right, however, because ticket sales dropped only 31% this weekend. That was the second-lowest second weekend drop for any movie in wide release this year, behind “The Tooth Fairy.”

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Demonstrating that good word of mouth wasn’t an isolated phenomenon, “Social Network” enjoyed minimal drops throughout the country, including smaller markets such as Cedar Rapids, Iowa, where receipts were off only 19%.

Combined with healthy weekday grosses, the movie’s total take is now $46.1 million. “The Social Network” is now almost certain to be a financial winner for Sony and its co-financier Relativity Media, which spent just under $40 million on production.

“I felt it was a great possibility it would hold well, but this is fantastic,” said Rory Bruer, Sony’s distribution president.

Disney’s aggressively marketed “Secretariat” started much slower out of the gate than the studio had hoped. Since early summer’s blockbuster “Toy Story 3,” Disney has seen a string of disappointments, including “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice,” “Step Up 3-D,” and “You Again.”

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The last historical horse racing movie, “Seabiscuit,” opened to a stronger $20.9 million in summer 2003.

But there’s reason for Disney to believe it won’t be a short race for “Secretariat,” which cost $35 million to produce. Those who came loved the picture, giving it an average grade of A, according to market research firm CinemaScore.

The film drew a mostly older crowd that likely remembers the Triple Crown winner from 1973, because 58% of attendees were over 35. With Disney promoting the film to religious audiences, it played best in smaller cities between the coasts, such as Salt Lake City and Denver. Movies that draw adults in smaller markets, such as “The Blind Side,” can hang in at the box office.

“We’re going to play this one for the long term,” said Viane.

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Warner and Village Roadshow Pictures, which spent $38 million to make “Life As We Know It,” hope it will be their movie, not “Secretariat,” that will come out of the weekend with the strongest word of mouth.

The film about a mismatched couple forced to raise a baby together got an average a grade of A- from its largely female and over 35 audiences.

There’s little chance of that for “My Soul,” which not only had a weak start but disappointed audiences, who gave it a CinemaScore of D. The first new release from Craven in five years would have done much worse if not for higher ticket prices from 3-D theaters, which made up 86% of its total receipts.

Relativity Media’s Rogue Pictures label spent $25 million to make the movie, which was distributed by Universal Pictures.

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ben.fritz@latimes.com


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