The weekend box office was sheer torture as the bloody “Hostel,” a tale of buddies who stumble into a den of violent depravity, debuted at No. 1 with $20.1 million.
Lionsgate’s “Hostel” bumped off the previous weekend’s No. 1 film, Disney’s “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe,” which came in second with $15.4 million to lift its domestic total to $247.6 million, according to studio estimates Sunday.
Universal’s “King Kong” was third with $12.5 million, raising its domestic total to $192.5 million.
The weekend’s only other new wide release, 20th Century Fox’s “Grandma’s Boy,” flopped with just $2.9 million. The comedy from Adam Sandler’s production company stars Allen Covert as a video-game tester forced to move in with his grandmother.
After a slump that saw movie attendance fall 7 percent in 2005, Hollywood was off to a good start this year. The top 12 movies grossed $106.7 million, up 9 percent from the same weekend a year ago.
“Hostel” follows two Americans (Jay Hernandez and Derek Richardson) whose European pleasure jaunt turns nightmarish when they end up captives in a chamber of torture after a brothel visit.
“The track record of horror films tells you maybe Hollywood should just release horror movies to be successful. I can’t think of a more consistently performing genre at the box office,” said Paul Dergarabedian, president of box-office tracker Exhibitor Relations.
Though it was approaching the $200 million mark domestically, “King Kong” continued to perform below industry expectations. Hollywood had pegged the epic remake from “The Lord of the Rings” mastermind Peter Jackson as a potential billion-dollar smash worldwide.
Still, “King Kong” was climbing steadily internationally, its worldwide total hitting $464.5 million. “King Kong” is expected to top out in the $600 million range worldwide.
Expanding to more theaters in anticipation of Academy Awards season, Focus Features’ acclaimed “Brokeback Mountain” finished at No. 9 with $5.75 million, raising its total to $22.5 million.
Playing in 484 theaters, up about 200 from the previous weekend, “Brokeback Mountain” averaged a healthy $11,881 a cinema, compared to $9,157 in 2,195 theaters for “Hostel.”
“Brokeback Mountain” seems to be dashing speculation that its subject matter — a homosexual romance between two old sheepherding pals — would turn off audiences outside of urban markets.
“We’re very squarely in middle America, all the way to Duluth, Minn., Portland, Maine, El Paso, Tulsa, Wichita. We’re in the heartland,” said Jack Foley, head of distribution for Focus Features. “I think that’s no longer the real issue. The real issue is how much the film is being seen by people all over the country.”
“Brokeback Mountain” star Heath Ledger had a second film expanding to wider release, Disney’s “Casanova,” in which he plays the legendary womanizer. “Casanova” went into 1,004 theaters, up from 37, and took in $4 million for an average of $3,998 a cinema.
Also doing well as it expanded to wider release was DreamWorks’ “Match Point,” Woody Allen’s tale of infidelity that stars Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Scarlett Johannson and Emily Mortimer.
“Match Point” widened to 304 theaters, up from eight the previous weekend, and took in $2.8 million for an average of $9,243 a cinema.