Online-only weekend wrap-up: Peter Jackson's remake of ''King Kong'' opens at No. 1, but its $50 million take is nothing to go ape over

Remember when the hypesters were saying that King Kong could easily surpass Titanic as the highest-grossing movie ever? Those predictions hit an iceberg of moviegoer indifference this weekend, with Kong taking in an estimated $50.1 million from Friday to Sunday, for a total of $66.2 million since it opened on Wednesday. For most movies, such numbers would reflect a regal opening weekend (indeed, they were enough for Kong to open at No. 1 at the box office), but for a movie as hyped as Peter Jackson’s remake, especially one that cost more than $200 million to make, those numbers must a disappointment.

The banana-counters at Universal can take comfort in recalling that Titanic also opened modestly (its December 1997 opening netted $27.6 million) before becoming king of the world, and in the fact that Kong‘s take did jump 40 percent from Friday to Saturday. In other words, the movie had strong word of mouth, the kind that could keep Kong earning well in theaters for weeks to come. Still, in retrospect, it’s easy to see why the film is a tougher sell to ticket buyers than anticipated. Unlike Jackson’s Lord of the Rings movies, Kong isn’t a franchise with a built-in worldwide fanbase. The film’s star power is modest (Naomi Watts, Jack Black), with its title star not even appearing until 70 minutes into the movie’s lengthy three-hour running time.

Another possible strike against Kong: Its storyline is already reflected in the season’s other films. Want to see a story of Westerners transported to a fantastic land of majestic beasts and petrified natives? You could watch last week’s top movie, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, which earned $31.1 million for a second-place finish. Want to see a young woman treated savagely on her fella’s home turf? You could see Sarah Jessica Parker meet her prospective in-laws in The Family Stone, the weekend’s only other new movie in wide release, which opened at No. 3 with $12.7 million.

Looking for a CGI-filled epic in which a long-anticipated monster finally appears in the flesh? Sounds like Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, which earned $5.9 million to finish in fourth place. A shaggy, bulky, globetrotting hero trapped in a web of intrigue and betrayal? Try George Clooney in Syriana, the No. 5 movie ($5.4 million). A tale of forbidden love born in the wilderness that runs into trouble back in civilization? How about Brokeback Mountain? Still in limited release in its second weekend, the movie was the week’s champ in per-screen take, averaging $34,194 on each of 69 screens, for a total of $2.3 million and a No. 8 finish. If only Kong and Ann Darrow had been cowpokes.

Brokeback Mountain
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