Marketing Carries the Day for ‘Prom Night" |

Marketing Carries the Day for ‘Prom Night"

Josh Friedman
Los Angeles Times

HOLLYWOOD — It was a marketing gem, if not a screen gem.

“Prom Night,” from Sony Pictures’ genre division Screen Gems, opened No. 1 at the box office with an estimated $22.7 million in ticket sales over the weekend, the studio said Sunday. The updated version of a 1980 cult favorite notched the strongest opening for a pure horror film since the Oct. 26 weekend, when “Saw IV” racked up $31.8 million.

The studio pushed the film with a variety of stunts, including displays from which theater employees popped out to spook ” or at least crack up ” curious patrons. The poster features a screaming prom queen with her tiara askew, and trailers and TV spots focused on the story’s female students.

“The horror genre in general has not been doing that terrifically, but Screen Gems is at the top of their game in making and marketing these kinds of films,” said Rory Bruer, Sony’s president of domestic distribution.

The monster movie “Cloverfield” and the zombie thriller “I Am Legend” posted better openings, but both could be considered science-fiction, according to box-office tracker Media by Numbers. None of this year’s horror movies, including “The Eye,” “One Missed Call,” “Shutter” and “The Ruins,” had topped $13 million in its first weekend.

The R-rated crime drama “Street Kings,” a Fox Searchlight Pictures-Regency Enterprises co-production with an ensemble cast headed by Forest Whitaker and Keanu Reeves, opened at No. 2 this weekend, with an estimated $12 million.

The blackjack caper picture “21” continued to hold up well for Sony, ranking No. 3 with about $11 million in its third weekend, and Fox’s family adventure “Nim’s Island” was a solid fourth with $9 million in its second weekend.

The PG-13 “Prom Night,” produced by Neal H. Moritz on a budget of about $20 million, has had brutal reviews so far (14 percent positive, according to compendium, but it pulled in enough teenagers and young adults to open at the high end of industry expectations.

Brittany Snow from “Hairspray” and Scott Porter from NBC’s “Friday Night Lights” head the low-profile cast. The picture is a loose reworking of the cult favorite about a vengeful stalker who terrorizes a group of students on their special night.

The recent effort was released on an ideal weekend, with modest competition in the market and prom season heating up at most schools. The marketing materials were aimed squarely at the young female demographic that is considered the sweet spot for horror-thrillers, a move that paid off with a $9.5 million opening day Friday, followed by sharp drops.

“Street Kings,” whose cast includes Hugh Laurie and Chris Evans, along with rappers Common and The Game, also was produced for about $20 million. The film, released through 20th Century Fox, drew audiences estimated at 56 percent male and 55 percent younger than 25.

Miramax Films’ “Smart People,” a romantic comedy-drama starring Dennis Quaid, Sarah Jessica Parker, Thomas Haden Church and Ellen Page, opened at No. 7, with an estimated $4.2 million.

Overall business stayed in a funk. Box-office revenue was off 19.6 percent from the same weekend in 2007, Media by Numbers estimated. It was the fourth consecutive “down” weekend as Hollywood looks forward to May 2, when the summer season begins on the industry’s calendar.

Three major movies open Friday: Lionsgate’s “The Forbidden Kingdom,” an action-adventure starring Jet Li and Jackie Chan; Universal Pictures’ “Forgetting Sarah Marshall,” the latest raunchy comedy from producer Judd Apatow; and Sony’s “88 Minutes,” a thriller starring Al Pacino.