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Weekend box office: I am Max, hear me roar

Posted by Ty Burr  October 19, 2009 08:34 AM

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wildthings

All right, I'm impressed. I know, the book is encoded in everyone's DNA at age 3 and Warner Brothers has been giving it the full market push and the upscale/boho/intelligentsia mediaverse has been going nuts for months now (I mean, the New Yorker? Really?). But personally I wasn't sure if Spike Jonze's marvelous, haunting, melancholy film version of "Where the Wild Things Are" would translate to middle America. It's an art film about childhood that plays best to audiences willing to plumb their own deep emotions on the subject, not little kids and parents who just want more shiny things thrown at their heads.

So it's nice to report that in very busy week at the box office -- 40 percent up from last weekend and thank the weather gods for that -- "Wild Things" landed atop the pigpile with $32.5 million at 5,000 theaters. The data broke down in interesting ways: Unlike a lot of family films, this one skewed older, with 43% of the audience 18 and older and only 27% made up of parents with children under 12. That means the word was out that this was not "Shrek 4" but something darker, richer, and maybe not for the tater-tots (unless your five-year-old is a fan of "Being John Malkovich"). Still, we'll see next week whether the opening for "Wild Things" was the real thing, when word-of-mouth factors more heavily than marketing. (You can get a fascinating preview by reading the user comments over at IMDb.com: totally polarized, with the 10-star raves for now outnumbering the angry one-star tantrums. Let the wild rumpus start!)

Thriller "Law Abiding Citizen" cruised past lousy reviews to an unexpectedly beefy $21.3 million and second place on the strength of stars Jamie Foxx and Gerard Butler; it'll probably fall off sharply next weekend on its way to On Demand and a long afterlife as Blockbuster New Release shelf filler. Both "Wild Things" and "Citizen" had strong per-theater-averages ($8,693 and $7,353 respectively) but the third-place contender, "Paranormal Activity," a.k.a. the little horror movie that could, was the weekend's PTA champ, expanding from 160 theaters to 700 and scoring a $26,500 average take per theater. The movie's $20 million gross for the weekend brings its total up to $33 million, or three hundred times its $11,000 budget. How about that? A DIY movie that actually pays back its investors.

The only other major release, chiller remake "The Stepfather," made a pretty good $12.5 million all things considered, and has already has been entirely forgotten by everyone who saw it.

More box office numbers at Box Office Mojo and Leonard Klady of Movie City News.

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Ty Burr is a film critic with The Boston Globe.

Mark Feeney is an arts writer for The Boston Globe.

Janice Page is movies editor for The Boston Globe.

Tom Russo is a regular correspondent for the Movies section and writes a weekly column on DVD releases.

Katie McLeod is Boston.com's features editor.

Rachel Raczka is a producer for Lifestyle and Arts & Entertainment at Boston.com.

Emily Wright is an Arts & Entertainment producer for Boston.com.

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