MEGAPLEXES EMPTY; ART HOUSES PACKED

Theaters showing mainstream movie fare were mostly empty over the weekend, a traditionally slow period at the box office. On the other hand, those showing art-house fare were doing a land-office business. The Jodie Foster vigilante flick The Brave One was the top earner with an estimated $14 million in 2,755 theaters, or about $5,100 per theater. By contrast, David Cronenberg's Eastern Promises took in $553,000 in 15 theaters, or an average of nearly $37,000 per theater. The Beatles drama/musical Across the Universe, directed by Julie Taymor, racked up about $685,000 in 23 theaters, or nearly $30,000 per theater. Paul Haggis's In the Valley of Elah earned a solid $150,000 in nine theaters, averaging $17,000 per theater. Among films in wide release only The Brave One earned more than $10 million. Studio figures indicated that the debuting Billy Bob Thornton comedy Mr. Woodcock and last week's winner 3:10 to Yuma were virtually tied for second place with about $9.1 million each. (Final results will be published here on Tuesday.) Dragon Wars opened in fourth place with $5.4 million. Superbad continued to exhibit super legs, taking in another $5.2 million to place fifth and bringing its gross-to-date to $111.3 million. (It cost only $20 million to produce.)

The top ten films over the weekend, according to final figures compiled by Media by Numbers (figures in parentheses represent total gross to date):

1. The Brave One, $14 million; 2. 3:10 to Yuma, $9.2 million; 3. Mr. Woodcock, $9.1 million; 4. Dragon Wars, $5.4 million; 5. Superbad, $5.2 million; 6. Halloween, $5 million; 7. The Bourne Ultimatum, $4.2 million; 8. Balls of Fury, $3.3 million; 9. Rush Hour 3, $3.3 million; 10. Mr. Bean's Holiday, $2.7 million.

BOURNE AGAIN -- OVERSEAS

Even as the Matt Damon spy flick The Bourne Ultimatum continued to show solid strength at the domestic box office in its seventh week -- taking in $4.2 million to bring its total domestic receipts to $216.2 million -- the film showed impressive staying power overseas as well. In its fourth week, Bourne still led the pack, earning $20.8 million and bringing its foreign gross to $122 million. Also performing solidly abroad was The Simpsons Movie, which placed second with $10.5 million, to raise its total gross to $321 million overseas.

CRONENBERG'S EASTERN PROMISES WINS IN TORONTO

Canadian director David Cronenberg's Eastern Promises won the top People's Choice Award at the Toronto Film Festival over the weekend, pushing it into early Oscar contention. The film, co-starring Naomi Watts and Viggo Mortensen, is also due to open the London Film Festival on October 17. The film packed the 14 North American theaters in which it played over the weekend, taking in a per-theater average of $36,000, the highest of any movie in current release. The film also drew high praise from critics. In the Chicago Sun-Times Roger Ebert commented that with Promises Cronenberg has emerged into "the top rank of directors." Acceding to Cronenberg's request to critics not to give away the plot, Ebert concluded his review by remarking intriguingly, "The actors and the characters merge and form a reality above and apart from the story, and the result is a film that takes us beyond crime and London and the Russian mafia and into the mystifying realms of human nature." In the New York Daily News, Jack Mathews wrote, "Eastern Promises is the first must-see adult film of the young fall." Desson Thomson in the Washington Post commented that Cronenberg "has created a movie that is contemporary storytelling at its finest." A.O. Scott in the New York Times concluded his review by remarking that Promises is "a movie whose images and implications are likely to stay in your head for a long time." But Carina Chocano in the Los Angeles Times, while calling the film "expertly realized and gunmetal slick," nevertheless commented that it "doesn't stir much in the way of visceral horror despite its penchant for treating the human body like a chicken carcass on a block." And Bruce Westbrook in the Houston Chronicle suggested that Cronenberg merely leads the moviegoer into "a stifling descent into grim shock and disturbing awe. For Cronenberg, such cheap sensationalism is business as usual, and this far into his career, that business has slipped into artistic bankruptcy."

Cinemark Movie Club
Brian B.