Weekend Box Office (January 2 - 4, 2009)

by Gitesh Pandya

THIS WEEKEND Moviegoers caught up on those holiday films they didn't see over Christmas weekend as the top eight films finished in the exact same slots as last weekend with the dog drama Marley & Me leading the pack once again and smashing through the $100M mark too. Most holdovers in the top ten saw drops of 20-35% as Friday's semi-holiday gave ticket buyers some extra time off. Plus with no new films entering wide release attention remained on the assortment of star-driven films already in the multiplexes. Despite 2008 seeing a 4% decline in box office admissions, 2009 got off to a solid start at the North American box office with the gross for the Top 20 climbing 9% above last year's tally which more than makes up for higher ticket prices.

Audiences lined up for Fox's hit family drama Marley & Me spending $24.3M on the world's worst dog in its second weekend of release, according to final studio figures. Down 33%, the Owen Wilson-Jennifer Aniston pic boosted its 11-day total to a robust $106.7M and is now on course to become the twelfth release of 2008 to surpass the $150M mark. 2007 had 13 films break that barrier. At its current pace, Marley may finish its run with about $160M which would allow it to surpass the $154.5M of Horton Hears a Who to rank as Fox's number one film released last year.

Adam Sandler positioned himself in second place again with his family comedy Bedtime Stories which grossed $20.5M. Down 25% from its opening, the PG-rated film has collected a sturdy $85.5M in 11 days and looks headed for the neighborhood of $130M for Disney.

Paramount's Brad Pitt saga The Curious Case of Benjamin Button held steady in third place dropping 30% to $18.7M in its second weekend. The decline was more like what a regular commercial film should see during this type of frame and not what a buzzworthy awards contender should post. Still, the not-so-easy-to-sell drama has banked an impressive $79.3M in only 11 days and should have no problem hitting the $130M mark. If it can score a Best Picture nomination for the Oscars, then the cume will soar much higher and allow Pitt to challenge ex-wife Aniston for bragging rights to the Christmas season's top-grossing hit.

Tom Cruise's war thriller Valkyrie held up reasonably well in its second attack grossing $14.1M, down 33%. The MGM release has now taken in $60.7M in its first 11 days which is more than what most in the industry thought a month ago it would gross in its entire run. The assassination flick could reach $90M by the time it leaves domestic theaters.

Jim Carrey's popular comedy Yes Man dipped only 17% to $13.9M giving Warner Bros. $79.5M to date. Look for a $100-110M final. Fellow superstar Will Smith followed with Seven Pounds which grabbed $10.1M, off 24%, bringing the cume to $60.1M. Sony should end its run in the vicinity of $80M.

The Tale of Despereaux, the top ten's only animated film, dropped 22% to $6.9M for Universal which should find its way to $55-60M. Suffering the largest drop in the top ten was Fox's sci-fi remake The Day the Earth Stood Still with $5M, down 34%, for a $74.4M sum. The Keanu Reeves flick may finish off with $80M.

Easing only 6% was the Meryl Streep pic Doubt with $5M as well boosting the total to $18.7M still early in its run for Miramax. Fox Searchlight's award-winning Slumdog Millionaire jumped back into the top ten with $4.7M which lifted the total to $28.7M. Among films in the top ten, the Danny Boyle film posted the strongest average with $7,665 from 612 sites and was the only title to not suffer a sales drop. It climbed 9% from last weekend despite no increase in theaters.

Two November hits catering to younger audiences hovered just outside the top ten with scant declines this weekend. The high school vampire drama Twilight dipped only 2% to $4.6M to boost Summit's cume to a remarkable $176.9M. On Monday, the teen love story will surpass the $177M of Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa to become the seventh biggest blockbuster of 2008 and it will become the highest-grossing hit since The Dark Knight. Disney's 3D toon Bolt slipped just 3% to $3.3M and raised its tally to $109.9M.

Four notable films in limited release generated averages of more than $20,000 each showing great strength in a crowded market. Paramount Vantage launched its World War II pic Defiance in just two theaters on Wednesday and grossed $123,513 over three days for a scorching $61,757 average. The five-day sum is $200,614 and the distributor will expand the Daniel Craig pic nationally on January 16.

Clint Eastwood continued to pull in packed crowds for Gran Torino which did amazingly well in its fourth weekend grossing $2.9M from just 84 locations for a potent $34,957 average. Warner Bros. has been rolling the film out in a pattern similar to that of the 78-year-old star's Million Dollar Baby from four years ago. In its fourth weekend, that film grossed $1.9M from 109 theaters for a powerful $17,619 average during the January 7-9 frame. The studio waited until the final weekend of January to go nationwide so it could follow the announcement of Oscar nominations. Baby ended up beating early frontrunner The Aviator at the Academy Awards for Best Picture and Best Director. Torino will go wide earlier, though, and will expand to over 2,600 theaters this Friday, January 9.

Aviator star Leonardo DiCaprio enjoyed a solid expansion for his latest, Revolutionary Road co-starring Kate Winslet. The Sam Mendes-directed film went from three to 38 sites and grossed $985,961 for a $25,946 average for Vantage. Averaging a similar $24,323 was Searchlight's The Wrestler with $437,815 from only 18 houses. Totals stand at $1.4M and $1.8M with much more to come for each.

The top ten films grossed $123.2M which was up 10% from last year when National Treasure: Book of Secrets stayed in the top spot for a third time with $20.1M; and up a remarkable 29% from 2006 when Night at the Museum remained at number one for a third weekend with $23.7M.

Be sure to check the UPDATED box office charts for the Top 20 Blockbusters of 2008 and Golden Globe nominees and grosses.

For a review of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button visit The Chief Report.

Be sure to check back on Thursday for a complete summary, including projections, for next weekend when Bride Wars, The Unborn, and Not Easily Broken all open.

Marketplace - Shop for DVDs, electronics, books, and posters at discounted prices:

# Title Jan 2 - 4 Dec 26 - 28 % Chg. Theaters Weeks AVG Cumulative Distributor
1 Marley & Me $ 24,263,763 $ 36,357,586 -33.3 3,505 2 $ 6,923 $ 106,664,046 Fox
2 Bedtime Stories 20,501,339 27,450,296 -25.3 3,684 2 5,565 85,539,168 Buena Vista
3 The Curious Case of Benjamin Button 18,691,248 26,853,816 -30.4 2,988 2 6,255 79,297,086 Paramount
4 Valkyrie 14,094,617 21,027,007 -33.0 2,778 2 5,074 60,743,921 MGM
5 Yes Man 13,910,477 16,657,046 -16.5 3,434 3 4,051 79,507,388 Warner Bros.
6 Seven Pounds 10,068,518 13,203,236 -23.7 2,758 3 3,651 60,147,298 Sony
7 The Tale of Despereaux 6,939,295 8,932,625 -22.3 3,091 3 2,245 43,661,775 Universal
8 The Day the Earth Stood Still 5,049,698 7,697,799 -34.4 2,337 4 2,161 74,424,256 Fox
9 Doubt 5,000,893 5,339,742 -6.3 1,287 4 3,886 18,705,481 Miramax
10 Slumdog Millionaire 4,690,769 4,301,870 9.0 612 8 7,665 28,676,598 Fox Searchlight
11 Twilight 4,648,642 4,742,432 -2.0 1,888 7 2,462 176,922,850 Summit
12 Bolt 3,291,944 3,377,761 -2.5 1,729 7 1,904 109,917,145 Buena Vista
13 The Spirit 3,259,898 6,463,278 -49.6 2,509 2 1,299 17,743,738 Lionsgate
14 Gran Torino 2,936,423 2,322,781 26.4 84 4 34,957 9,820,554 Warner Bros.
15 Four Christmases 2,811,390 4,840,221 -41.9 2,307 6 1,219 118,189,834 Warner Bros.
16 Milk 1,888,510 1,762,638 7.1 309 6 6,112 17,157,994 Focus
17 The Reader 1,598,472 664,013 140.7 398 4 4,016 3,553,578 Weinstein Co.
18 Frost/Nixon 1,400,484 1,355,186 3.3 205 5 6,832 6,291,176 Universal
19 Australia 1,163,169 1,079,248 7.8 768 6 1,515 46,686,713 Fox
20 Quantum of Solace 1,130,055 1,400,474 -19.3 891 8 1,268 166,820,413 Sony
Top 5 $ 91,461,444 $ 128,345,751 -28.7
Top 10 123,210,617 169,982,431 -27.5
Top 20 147,339,604 196,088,060 -24.9
Top 20 vs. 2008 147,339,604 135,432,097 8.8

Last Updated: January 5, 2009 at 6:00PM ET