'White Noise' Resonates with $24M Debut
Electric Voice Phenomena (EVP) may not be the topic that everybody's talking about, as the ads for White Noise assert, but it proved a creepy enough subject to help Universal's supernatural thriller resonate with audiences.

Roaring past all industry expectations, White Noise bowed at No. 2 with a loud $24.1 million at 2,261 theaters. That's the fourth biggest wide January opening and the best showing that the first weekend of the year has ever seen for a new or expanding movie, beating Universal's own A Beautiful Mind ($16.6 million). The frame is generally considered a time for holiday holdovers to breathe and moribund for new releases.

"The tracking showed it would be in the teens, but didn't indicate $24 million," Universal's head of distribution Nikki Rocco told Box Office Mojo. "It's a testament to the marketing department. They created a must-see event for the core audience and there was nothing else in the marketplace like it."

Despite a middle-aged cast and plot elements (a man contacting his dead wife), White Noise skewed heavily young—67% of moviegoers were under 25, according to Universal's exit polling. Rocco noted that horror movies always appeal greatly to teens and young adults. The audience also leaned female at 58%.

The "horror" was cited by polled moviegoers as the main reason they saw the PG-13 rated White Noise, followed by the "suspense," the "story" and the "supernatural theme."

Universal's marketing hit the right frequency to intrigue potential moviegoers. Instead of showing much of White Noise itself, the trailer used three classic devices for horror advertising. First, it posited that its subject EVP, which it describes as a "process by which the dead, through sound and image, communicate with the living through the static and white noise of modern electronic devices," was real, even including examples that weren't "edited or enhanced." After the creepy set-up, it went to the "what if?" phase—saying that if our loved ones can reach us, "who else can come through?" Lastly, it gave the warning that the movie was too scary for people to take—"The subject of some movies is so disturbing that those who experience them will never be the same again," the voiceover intoned.

Always a reliable genre commercially, horror has been on a roll lately with such titles as last fall's The Forgotten, Saw and The Grudge exceeding expectations. And there are plenty of scares promised in upcoming movies, including Boogeyman on Feb. 4, Keanu Reeves' hell-raising Constantine on Feb. 18, director Wes Craven's werewolf thriller Cursed on Feb. 25 and The Ring Two on Mar. 18.

The low-budget White Noise was produced by Gold Circle Films, one of the companies behind My Big Fat Greek Wedding, and it represents the first release in a two-year, first look pact with distributor Universal. Their next collaboration is the romantic comedy The Wedding Date on Feb. 4.

For actor Michael Keaton, White Noise stands as his first outright hit in over 12 years since Batman Returns and by far his biggest opening outside the Batman movies.

Universal also enjoyed the continued success of Meet the Fockers, the No. 1 movie for the third consecutive weekend. The comedy sequel racked up $28.5 million, down only 32%. After 17 days, it has greeted $204.3 million, marking the first $200 million movie ever for stars Ben Stiller, Robert De Niro, Dustin Hoffman and Barbra Streisand and already ranking No. 6 among all 2004 releases. It's headed for a final tally north of $260 million.

Between White Noise and Meet the Fockers, Universal's pictures accounted for more than half of the estimated $98.3 million the top 12 movies generated.

Next weekend, Universal rolls out In Good Company to over 1,500 theaters. Holding at three theaters, the corporate comedy starring Dennis Quaid, Scarlett Johansson and Topher Grace accrued $144,149, off 5% and averaging a strong $48,049 per site, for $438,714 in 12 days.

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