Monday, August 23, 2004

'Exorcist' frightens movie competition

The Associated Press

God vs. Satan cast out space creatures at the box office.

Demon thriller Exorcist: The Beginning debuted as the No. 1 weekend movie with $18.2 million, displacing Alien vs. Predator, which tumbled to No. 4 with $12.5 million, studio estimates showed Sunday.

Without a Paddle, a slapstick comedy about three pals on a canoe trip in search of treasure, opened in second place with $13.7 million.

After two strong weeks in limited release, the shark tale Open Water expanded nationwide and came in at No. 5 with $11.75 million, lifting its domestic total to $14.8 million.

Another popular limited-release flick, Zach Braff's romantic comedy Garden State, also went into wide release, taking the No. 10 spot with $3.2 million and pushing its total to $6.7 million.

Exorcist: The Beginning, a prequel to the 1973 horror blockbuster The Exorcist, stars Stellan Skarsgard as the priest of the original movie in his first encounter with the devil in late 1940s Africa.

Though trashed by critics, director Renny Harlin's movie had solid appeal for horror fans, who typically turn out in droves on opening weekend.

"You can always count on horror films to do well," said Paul Dergarabedian, of box-office tracker Exhibitor Relations. "There's just this built-in audience base that loves this genre."

The movie could follow the same path as Alien vs. Predator, whose $12.5 million second weekend was down 67 percent from its opening gross.

Like Alien vs. Predator revenues, receipts for Exorcist dropped sharply from Friday to Saturday, a sign of poor word of mouth from early viewers. Most new movies do more business on Saturday than Friday.

Without a Paddle, starring Seth Green, Matthew Lillard and Dax Shepard, played largely to the 21-and-younger crowd but, surprisingly, drew slightly more females than males. Paramount had expected the buddy comedy to score a mostly male audience.

The movie was another genre flick unaffected by its flogging from critics.

In limited release, actor Stephen Fry's directing debut on the Jazz-age satire Bright Young Things premiered strongly with $53,500 in three theaters. Based on Evelyn Waugh's novel Vile Bodies, the film's cast includes Emily Mortimer, Dan Aykroyd, Jim Broadbent and Peter O'Toole.

Top 10 The top 10 movies at the box office over the weekend (dollars in millions):

1. Exorcist: The Beginning, $18.2

2. Without a Paddle, $13.7

3. Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement, $13.2

4. Alien vs. Predator, $12.5

5. Open Water, $11.75

6. Collateral, $10.5

7. The Bourne Supremacy, $6.6

8. The Manchurian Candidate, $4.2

9. The Village, $3.7

10. Garden State, $3.2

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