Borat vanquishes rivals in box-office stunner

As the intrepid Kazakhstan journalist Borat Sagdiyev might say, Borat make glorious entrance at Hollywood office of movies.

Indeed, Borat — the acclaimed comedy tracing the Jew-fearing title character’s road trip across the United States — stunned observers by opening at number one on Sunday with ticket sales of $26,4-million, more than double the most optimistic forecasts.

The Twentieth Century Fox release was expected to open somewhere in the top-five, certainly well behind presumed new champ, The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause, which had to be content with a number two opening on ticket sales of $20-million.

Fox released the R-rated Borat in just 837 theatres across the United States and Canada, down from initial plans of 2 500 theaters, because polling indicated that huge enthusiasm among critics and the MySpace crowd had not spread to mainstream moviegoers.

In the end, it appeared that naked wrestling, toilet jokes and anti-semitic satire hold universal appeal.

Borat also earned more than $17-million overseas after opening in 17 countries, and was number one in at least Britain and Germany, according to preliminary Fox data.

”It’s broad, slapstick humour but with a real intelligence hidden below the surface,” said Bruce Snyder, Fox’s president of domestic theatrical distribution.

English comedian Sacha Baron Cohen stars in the title role as a TV reporter making a documentary about the United States for his impoverished countrymen. Baron Cohen and director Larry Charles, a former Seinfeld writer/producer, made the $18-million film guerrilla-style.

Nudity, special cheese

Their ”co-stars,” often not in on the joke, get to look aghast as Borat runs naked through a hotel or offers cheese he claims was made from his wife’s breast milk. Or otherwise they don’t blink an eyelid as Borat tries to buy a gun suitable for shooting Jews.

Snyder said the film will expand to about 2 500 theaters across North America next weekend, and was confident that excellent ”word-of-mouth” would make the film a must-see across all demographics.

The Santa Clause 3, starring Tim Allen as St Nick, played in 3 458 theatres. Its $20-million opening was down sharply from the $29-million bow of its 2002 predecessor, which went on to make $139-million.

Still, Disney said the opening was ”phenomenal,” given the competition in the family-film market, notably from arch-rival DreamWorks Animation SKG’s latest cartoon Flushed Away, which opened at number three with $19,1-million.

Flushed Away, the ninth animal cartoon of the year, exceeded the expectations of its distributor, Viacom’s Paramount Pictures. The tale of a mouse flushed into the sewer was produced by DreamWorks Animation in association with Britain’s Aardman Animation, the firm behind Wallace and Gromit.

Observers had expected the new effort to open in the same $16-million range as DreamWorks/Aardman’s previous venture, Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit, which ended up with just $56-million last year, forcing DreamWorks to take a write-down on its costs.

The new film cost $130-million to make, according to an estimate by David Miller an analyst at brokerage Sanders Morris Harris, meaning that it will have to gross $315-million worldwide to make any money for DreamWorks.

Also new to the top-10 was The Queen, which jumped four places to number 10 in its sixth week of release with $3-million from just 387 theatres. The British drama, revolving around the aftermath of Princess Diana’s fatal car crash, was released by Disney’s Miramax Films, and has earned $10-million to date.

Last weekend’s champion, the horror Saw III, fell to number four with $15,5-million, taking its 10-day haul to $60,1-million — on par with the performance of its 2005 predecessor. The series was released by Lionsgate, a unit of Lions Gate Entertainment. – Reuters

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