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'Resident Evil' shows zombies rule at the box office

Screen Gems

Milla Jovovich stars in "Resident Evil: Retribution."

Zombies ruled at the North American box office this weekend as Sony’s "Resident Evil: Retribution" fought its way to the top of the pack. But the busiest action took place in the five theaters in New York and Los Angeles where Paul Thomas Anderson’s "The Master" debuted to a record-breaking $729,745.

"Retribution," the fifth installment in the "Resident Evil" franchise starring Milla Jovovich, took in an estimated $21.1 million at 3,012 locations. The R-rated movie from Sony’s Screen Gems unit and Constantin Films and directed by Paul W.S. Anderson checked in ahead of the weekend’s other new wide Hollywood release, Disney’s 3D reissue of Pixar’s G-rated "Finding Nemo," which collected $17.5 million in 2,904 theaters.

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Meanwhile, The Weinstein Co.’s "The Master," coming off momentum it built at the Venice and Toronto film festivals, set a record for an exclusive opening. The drama starring Joaquin Phoenix and Philip Seymour Hoffman as two men enmeshed in mind games amassed a record $145,949 per theater, leapfrogging over the previous art house record of $130,759 per location that Focus’ "Moonrise Kingdom" established in May. 

Lionsgate and Roadside also found buyers for its financial thriller "Arbitrage," starring Richard Gere as a hedge fund manager whose life is unraveling. It attracted $2.1 million on 197 screens, for a per-screen average of $10,505. Also bowing simultaneously as a VOD offering, it looks to be the biggest theatrical/VOD opening to date.

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"Retribution," which cost $65 million to produce, didn't prove quite as big a draw in North America as the previous film in the series, even with an assist from 3D and Imax tickets: The previous installment,  2010's "Resident Evil: Afterlife," opened to $26.7 million domestically. But the franchise has become a big seller abroad; "Afterlife" grossed $60.1 domestically and a whopping $236.1 million in foreign territories.

Domestically, 64 percent of the "Retribution" audience was male, and 45 percent was under 25. Forty-eight percent of the audience opted to see it in 3D, while 14 percent headed to Imax theaters. Worldwide, Imax screens accounted for $6.1 million worth of tickets sold, while $3 million of that came from domestic locations, putting it ahead of the "Afterlife" numbers achieved in Imax.

In foreign territories, "Retribution," which collected $50 million, is also outpacing "Afterlife" which took in $39 million during the same time frame. In Japan, the movie opened to $10.3 million, the biggest opening of the year for a Hollywood film and more than double the opening of "The Dark Knight Rises." The story was similar in Latin America, where the movie bowed to $3.5 million in Brazil. And in Russia, it picked up $8.5 million.

"We're off to a great start. The movie is doing huge numbers in Southeast Asia and Latin America, where the franchise is alive and resonating," said Rory Breur, Sony president of worldwide distribution. "We have to give so much credit to Milla, who shows up in all those countries and really works it. People around the world love her."

As for "Nemo," the movie is one of the critical and fan favorites in the Pixar canon. Originally released in 2003, the underwater tale, featuring the voices of Albert Brooks and Ellen DeGeneres, grossed $867.6 million prior to its arrival in a new 3D version. But instead of acting like "The Lion King," which opened to $30.2 million when it was released in 3D a year ago, "Nemo" performed more like the 3D return of "Beauty and the Beast," which opened to $17.8 million in January. And 3D proved a major lure: 96 percent of the tickets sold came from 3D engagments, in line with what Disney witnessed with "Lion King."

"Overall, it was a nice balance," Dave Hollis, Disney exec vp for theatrical exhibition, sales and distribution, said of the audience that turned out for the movie, which cost about $5 million to convert to 3D. Fifty-six percent of the audience was female, 46 percent was over 25, and families made up 71 percent of the ticket-buyers. "It delivered on multiple levels, drawing families during the day, and the date-night audience in the evenings. At the end of the day, it matched 'Beauty and the Beast.' And since it only cost a modest amount of money, it's a nice bit of found change for both us and the exhibitors."

In other action, Lionsgate's "The Possession" and The Weinstein Co.'s "Lawless," both in their third weekends, claimed the third and fourth spots, with $5.8 million (and a cume of 41.2 million) and $4.2 million (and a cume of $30.1 million) respectively. Focus' animated "ParaNorman," in its fifth weekend, was number five with $3 million as its domestic purse grew to $49.3 million, and Lionsgate's  2 was sixth with $3 million and a new domestic tally of $80.3 million.

CBS Films' "The Words," starring Bradley Cooper, which opened in fourth place last weekend, slipped to seventh place as it picked up $2.9 million, bringing its total to $9.2 million. Rounding out the top 10 were: Universal's "The Bourne Legacy," with $2.9 million and a cume of $107.8 million; Disney's "The Odd Life of Timothy Green," with $2.5 million and $46.3 million; and Warner's "The Campaign," with $2.4 million and $82.9 million.

Among other new arrivals, the inspirational drama, "Last Ounce of Courage,"  from Rocky Mountain Pictures, the distributor behind the political documentary "2016: Obama's America," opened in 1,407 locations, but did just $1.7 million, for a per-location average of $1,214 daughters. The Nicolas Cage thriller "Stolen,"  which Millenium Entertainment introduced in just 141 theaters did only $204,000 for a per-location average of $1,447.

IFC introduced "Liberal Arts," starring Allison Janey and Richard Jenkins, in four theaters, where it took in $30,000. The movie will move into 15 top markets next weekend. And Anchor Bay Films played the high school reunion movie "10 Years" in just three theaters, where despite the presence of rising star Channing Tatum, it did just $23,000 worth of business.

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