'Beowulf' tops weekend box office " Especially in 3-D

HOLLYWOOD " In the widest test yet for the latest wave in 3-D cinema, the sword-and-sandals fantasy "Beowulf" got off to a promising " but not eye-popping " start at the box office over the weekend.

Director Robert Zemeckis' digitally animated epic, adapted from the classic Old English poem about a hero battling three generations of bizarre demons, met industry expectations by grossing $28.1 million in the United States and Canada, domestic distributor Paramount Pictures said Sunday.

Pulling in twice as much per screen at 3-D locations as at regular theaters, the heavily marketed film ranked No. 1 for the weekend, far ahead of the computer-animated comedy "Bee Movie" and the crime thriller "American Gangster."

"This will do great work in terms of convincing exhibitors that they should be investing in 3-D technology," said Rob Moore, Paramount's president of worldwide marketing and distribution.

Only about 20 percent of the auditoriums showing "Beowulf" were equipped with 3-D, but they accounted for 40 percent of the grosses, Moore said.

With no other 3-D films in the pipeline until 2008, "Beowulf" could end up hauling in the majority of its revenue in the special format by the end of its run, he said.

Hollywood films tend to last longer at theaters in 3-D, thanks to higher attendance and ticket prices.

Starring Ray Winstone as the boastful warrior Beowulf, Crispin Glover as the grotesque demon Grendel and Angelina Jolie as Grendel's evil and seductive mother, the PG-13 picture was created using the "performance capture" technique Zemeckis pioneered with 2004's "The Polar Express." It blends filmed performances with digital animation and special effects to create an unusual look that some call dazzling and others dismiss as creepy.

Stephen Bing's Shangri-La Entertainment financed about two-thirds of the $160 million production and Paramount one-third. The film is being handled internationally by distribution partner Warner Bros.

Half the opening-weekend ticket buyers were older than 25 and three-fifths were male, Paramount said. Although pre-release "tracking" polls had indicated scant interest among older females, Moore said the crowd was "reasonably" balanced for a movie in the action genre.

Because of its hefty cost, including tens of millions in marketing, the movie will need to hold up well domestically and roll out strongly overseas to be considered a financial success.

"Beowulf" got off to a decent start abroad, grossing an estimated $17 million from 13 countries outside the United States and Canada, according to Warner Bros.

The movie opened No. 1 or No. 2 in most territories and fared especially well in Britain, where it took in $4.4 million, and South Korea, where it racked up $3.7 million.

No breakdown was available for the film's 3-D screenings abroad, Warner Bros. said.

In the United States and Canada, the movie played in 3-D at 742 of its 3,153 theaters. It was the first to be shown in three different 3-D formats from rivals Real D, IMAX and new competitor Dolby Laboratories.

"Beowulf" averaged some $43,000 per theater at locations with giant-screen IMAX 3-D systems.

At locations equipped with technology from Beverly Hills-based Real D, whose 3-D systems are the most widely used, it averaged $13,000 per theater. (No estimates were available from Dolby, whose systems were deployed at a smaller number of theaters.)

At venues without 3-D screens, by comparison, the movie averaged about $7,000.

Faced with essentially flat attendance since the modern-day peak in 2002, theater owners have scrambled to install 3-D technology, which is costly up front but enables them to charge ticket premiums of $2 or more.

Despite the 3-D screenings of "Beowulf," industrywide box-office receipts were down from the same period in 2006 for the second consecutive weekend as Hollywood's fall slump continued.

The new releases "Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium," a G-rated fantasy starring Natalie Portman and Dustin Hoffman, and "Love in the Time of Cholera," an adaptation of the Gabriel Garcia Marquez novel that stars Javier Bardem, met with ho-hum results.

Box-office revenue was down 23 percent from a year earlier, when the animated penguin musical "Happy Feet" and the James Bond thriller "Casino Royale" both opened to more than $40 million, according to research firm Media by Numbers. Year-to-date, however, receipts are up 5 percent.

Studios hope to lure moviegoers with five new major releases for Thanksgiving week, starting Wednesday, including Walt Disney's modern-day fairy tale "Enchanted" and 20th Century Fox's adaptation of the high-octane videogame "Hitman."


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