'Forbidden Kingdom' Reigns Over Box Office

HOLLYWOOD " You're all right, Sarah Marshall, but you're not quite Jackie Chan or Jet Li.

The martial arts adventure "The Forbidden Kingdom," a Lionsgate Films and Weinstein Co. release that paired Li and Chan for the first time, topped the weekend box office with an estimated $20.9 million in ticket sales.

Universal Pictures' "Forgetting Sarah Marshall," the latest risque romantic comedy from producer Judd Apatow, opened a solid No. 2 with $17.3 million. The studio had marketed the breakup story through a campaign featuring billboards with slogans such as "I'm so over you, Sarah Marshall."

Two other movies opened nationwide, to different results. The Al Pacino thriller "88 Minutes" from Sony Pictures bombed with $6.8 million, while the controversial Ben Stein documentary "Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed" from Rocky Mountain Pictures cracked the top 10 in a surprisingly strong showing with $3.2 million, at far fewer theaters.

The PG-13-rated "Kingdom," financed at an estimated $75 million by Relativity Media along with Weinstein and Lionsgate, skewed male but attracted an age balance. The audience was 58 percent male and 54 percent under 25, Lionsgate said.

"It was a stroke of genius to pair Jackie Chan and Jet Li because the audience responded with a lot of enthusiasm," said Steve Rothenberg, Lionsgate's president of domestic distribution. In exit polls, 79 percent of respondents rated the film "excellent" or "very good."

Lionsgate has been consistent with its widest openings since last fall, although it hasn't had any blockbusters. The company's last eight movies to open at more than 2,000 theaters, dating to "3:10 to Yuma," ranked No. 1 or No. 2 for the weekend.

Weinstein co-founder Harvey Weinstein credited producer Casey Silver for putting together a "family friendly" film, with a mix of action and humor, about an American teenager's adventure in China where he encounters mystical warriors. "My kids, 5-, 10- and 13-year-old girls, loved the story," Weinstein said.

Universal was pleased with the opening for the R-rated "Sarah Marshall," which cost about $30 million to produce and features a low-profile cast headed by Jason Segel and Kristen Bell.

The audience was 53 percent female and 56 percent under 30, said Nikki Rocco, Universal's president of domestic distribution.

"The movie plays well, and we know that Judd Apatow's films tend to leg out," she said.

In exit surveys, more than 85 percent rated it "excellent" or "very good," a positive sign for the coming weeks. The picture is among the most favorably reviewed of the year so far, with 85 percent of notices positive, according to RottenTomatoes.com.

Apatow's films, including such hits as "Knocked Up," "The 40-Year-Old Virgin" and "Superbad," on average have ended up grossing more than four times their opening weekend totals " strong "multiples" in an industry whose norm is now below three.

Some analysts had wondered whether the prolific producer, whose last two films, "Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story" and "Drillbit Taylor," were disappointing commercially, had saturated the market for his brand of raunchy humor. The respectable opening for "Sarah Marshall," which had been expected to take in about $15 million based on pre-release consumer surveys, suggests otherwise.

The R-rated "88 Minutes," which Sony acquired for about $5 million, had been expected to open in the $8 million-to-$12 million range. But only 5 percent of reviews have been positive, according to RottenTomatoes.

"Expelled," backed by a grass-roots marketing effort from Motive Entertainment, fared better than pre-release tracking had signaled. Its opening was robust for a documentary, though it was far from the Michael Moore-type blockbuster the producers had been hoping for.

Overall box-office revenue rose from the same weekend in 2007 for the first time after four "down" weekends, according to data tracker Media by Numbers. Year-to-date, revenue is down 3.4 percent and attendance is off 6.5 percent.

Friday's releases, for the final weekend before Hollywood's summer season starts, include the comedies "Baby Mama," starring Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, and "Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay," starring John Cho and Kal Penn; and the thriller "Deception," with Ewan McGregor, Hugh Jackman and Michelle Williams.


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