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‘21 Jump Street’ tops weekend box office

The high school-set “21 Jump Street” taught its competition a lesson at the box office this weekend, easily collecting the majority of ticket sales at the multiplex.

The film, starring Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum as cops who go back to high school on an undercover mission, reaped a healthy $35 million, according to an estimate by distributor Sony Pictures.

“21 Jump Street” was the only new movie to hit theaters nationwide this weekend, though two other comedies debuted in about 60 of the country’s top markets. “Casa de Mi Padre,” a Spanish-language spaghetti-western spoof featuring Will Ferrell, raked in a solid $2.2 million. Playing in 100 fewer theaters, “Jeff, Who Lives at Home,” starring Jason Segel as an idealistic thirtysomething living in his mother’s basement, grossed a so-so $840,000.

Meanwhile, it was another bad weekend for Walt Disney Studios’ “John Carter.” After debuting with a lackluster $30.2 million last weekend, the $250-million-plus 3-D fantasy epic saw its ticket sales fall 55% to $13.5 million. In total, the film has grossed $53.2 million since its domestic release 10 days ago. At this rate, it seems that word of mouth will not be strong enough to turn the film into a domestic success, given its gargantuan budget.

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As a result of the weekend’s lackluster ticket sales, receipts were down roughly 6% compared to the same three-day period in 2011. It was the first weekend of 2012 in which sales declined when stacked against last year’s results.

Co-financed by Sony and MGM for about $42 million, “21 Jump Street” has earned strong critical reviews and was well received upon its premiere at the South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, last week. Sony also held roughly 350 advance screenings to build hype about the movie, loosely based on the 1980s television series starring a young Johnny Depp. In recent years, reboots from the decade have seen mixed results at the box office: Though a new spin on “The Karate Kid” grossed $359 million worldwide in 2010, last year’s “Fright Night” and “The Thing” both flopped.

“It’s been a long time since the original series [aired], so we felt like we had to reacquaint people with the story line through the word-of-mouth screenings,” said Rory Bruer, Sony’s distribution president. “This shows that it’s fine for a movie to have an ‘80s theme, but you have to have a fresh approach. This movie is very relevant to today’s world and what is going on in school’s today.”

“21 Jump Street” appealed to both genders in nearly equal measure and all ages went to see it as well: Half of the crowd was younger than 25 and half was older. However, it played far better with the younger audience, who assigned it an average grade of A, according to market research firm CinemaScore. Those 50 and older gave the movie a C-, so the movie ended up with a B overall.

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The film marked a return to comedy for Hill, who this year earned an Oscar nomination for his supporting role in the baseball drama “Moneyball.” It’s also the second box office success of the year for Tatum, the heartthrob who propelled Sony’s romantic tear-jerker “The Vow” to more than $100-million worth of ticket sales in February.

Overseas, “21 Jump Street” opened in 11 markets and brought in $7 million. The R-rated flick fared best in Australia, where it grossed $4.3 million, 16% more than “The Hangover” collected in the country in 2009.

As for Ferrell, the actor developed “Casa de Mi Padre” through his Gary Sanchez Productions. In the low-budget flick financed by Nala Films for $6 million, the comedian plays a Mexican rancher’s son who becomes involved in a drug war. The film debuted in 382 locations this weekend, for a per-theater average of $5,759. As expected, the film appealed to Latino audiences, who made up 68% of the crowd over the weekend.

The movie is being released by Pantelion Films, Lionsgate’s venture with Mexican media company Televisa. Since its inception in 2010, Pantelion has struggled to find success at the box office. “Casa de Mi Padre” will almost definitely prove to be its biggest release. The biggest is last year’s $3-million grossing “From Prada to Nada.” Next weekend, “Casa” will expand to roughly 400 theaters.

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“Jeff, Who Lives at Home,” co-starring Ed Helms and Susan Sarandon, played in 254 cinemas this weekend and ended up with a per-theater total of $3,300. The low-budget movie was co-funded by Paramount’s specialty label Vantage and independent production-financing company Indian Paintbrush.

The film has the potential to become the biggest hit yet for filmmaking brother team Mark and Jay Duplass. After beginning their career with a series of “mumblecore” films — ultra-inexpensive, documentary-style movies centered on naturalistic dialogue — the brothers made their first studio project in 2010 with Fox Searchlight. That film, “Cyrus,” starring Hill and John C. Reilly, grossed only $7.5 million at the box office by the end of its run.

amy.kaufman@latimes.com


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