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Bethany Hamilton biopic debuts at No. 4 at box office

    Bethany Hamilton with AnnaSophia Robb on the set of "Soul Surfer
    Surfer and shark attack victim Bethany Hamilton poses for a portrait on Friday, March 25, 2011 at the Waikiki Edition Hotel in Waikiki.

“Soul Surfer,” the movie filmed on Kauai about Hawaii surfer Bethany Hamilton, who returned to competitive surfing after her arm was bitten off by a shark, got off to a good start at the box office with $11.1 million in ticket sales during its debut weekend.

The film was the fourth-highest grossing movie over the weekend.

Movie analysts note that the 80 percent female audience who turned up for “Soul Surfer” seemed enamored with the movie, giving it a rare A-plus. The movie, which is being distributed by Sony Pictures’ TriStar and marketed by the studio’s faith-based division Affirm Films and FilmDistrict, was made for $18 million.

Because the movie has strong religious themes, much of the advertising campaign was aimed at Christian audiences in conservative parts of the country including the South. Rory Bruer, Sony Pictures’ distribution president, attributed the film’s success to its targeted push as well as positive feedback from 350 advance screenings.

“It definitely had a strong start in the Midwest and the South, but the film has an uplifting message that speaks not only to the Christian contingency but to a broad audience as well,” Bruer said.

The comedy “Hop,” about a young bunny’s mission to save Easter, was the top film in U.S. and Canadian theaters for the second-straight weekend, taking in $21.7 million in ticket sales.

“Hop,” a PG-rated film combining animation and live action, is the first film from Comcast Corp.’s Universal Pictures to lead the box office this year and has taken in $68.2 million in two weeks of release, Box-Office said today in an e-mailed statement.

The movie held on to the top spot even with four other debut films vying for moviegoer attention, including a remake of the 1981 comedy “Arthur” featuring Russell Brand, one of the voices in “Hop.” U.S. theater attendance has slumped 22 percent this year through this weekend as the studios’ film slates have failed to match the appeal of last year’s fare. The action film “Hanna”  came in third with $12.3 million.

The horror film “Insidious,” distributed in the U.S. by FilmDistrict, fell to fifth place from third with sales of $9.7 million. In the film, a family battles to free their young son from evil spirits that torment him. The movie stars Patrick Wilson and Rose Byrne.

“Your Highness,” a comedy with Danny McBride, James Franco and Natalie Portman, took in $9.5 million to land in sixth place for Universal in its debut. McBride and Franco play sibling princes on a mission to rescue the proverbial damsel in distress played by Zooey Deschanel and save the kingdom. They’re joined on the mission by a female warrior played by Portman.

Revenue for the top 12 films this weekend fell 11.5 percent to $105.6 million from a year earlier, said. Domestic box-office sales this year have declined 20.5 percent to $2.491 billion.

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