Weekend Box Office (January 16 - 19, 2009)

by Gitesh Pandya

THIS WEEKEND The North American box office was on fire once again as four new releases all scored muscular debuts helping to drive the marketplace to the biggest January weekend in history as ticket buyers flooded the multiplexes over a record-shattering Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. holiday frame. The Kevin James comedy Paul Blart: Mall Cop surged ahead of expectations to easily win the session while the R-rated films My Bloody Valentine 3D and Notorious also generated stellar numbers. Kidpic Hotel for Dogs debuted to some nice figures as well joining its fellow newcomers in the top five. All four new films opened to more than $20M each over the extended four-day Friday-to-Monday period.

Santa must have given Hollywood studios crystal balls because just about everything tossed into theaters over the last four weeks has been met with a great response from moviegoers who seem to be in the mood to see anything. In fact since Christmas, a whopping eleven films have opened to $17M or more. That compares to just four from the same period a year ago. The Top 20 grossed a jaw-dropping $185M over the Friday-to-Sunday span this weekend beating last Thanksgiving's holiday frame by an amazing 15%. Over the four-day span, the Top 20 soared to $220M edging last Memorial Day's Friday-to-Monday session by 3%. The MLK frame has never been this potent.

Sony topped the charts with Paul Blart taking in $39.2M over four days, according to final figures, beating the studio's most aggressive forecasts. The PG-rated comedy averaged a superb $12,479 from 3,144 locations and established James as a bankable funnyman. Look for future paydays to climb rapidly. Having anchored the hit sitcom King of Queens, the actor has never opened a film on his own and instead has taken sidekick roles next to more established box office titans like Will Smith in Hitch and Adam Sandler in I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry. Blart's three-day debut of $31.8M actually beat out the openings of recent films from both of those stars. Smith's Seven Pounds bowed to just $14.9M while Sandler's Bedtime Stories debuted to $27.5M. James attracted mostly negative reviews which meant nothing to moviegoers looking just for 90 minutes of mindless fun.

Budgeted at only $26M, the film should turn out to be a nice little moneymaker for Sony and Sandler whose company Happy Madison produced. Exit polls showed that males and females were evenly represented while those under 25 made up 56% of the crowd. Friday saw a solid start with a stellar $9.8M while Saturday jumped a healthy 35% to $13.2M with family audiences making the trip out. Blart also registered the third largest January opening ever.

Clint Eastwood held his own against the $110M of business stolen away by the four new releases this long weekend. His Gran Torino dropped to the runnerup spot in its second weekend of wide release pulling in $25.6M. The three-day portion fell just 26%. Warner Bros. is enjoying the same strong legs that most of Eastwood's films have since the Oscar-winner's older-skewing fan base usually comes out over time and not upfront in the first weekend. With $76.6M already in the tank, Torino could soar to $140M or more by the end of its lucrative run.

The battle for third place was tight but over the four-day Friday-to-Monday period, the horror film My Bloody Valentine 3D eked out the victory. The Lionsgate terrorfest bowed to $24.1M from 2,534 theaters for a terrific $9,512 average. It was the widest debut ever for a 3D film with 1,033 (41%) of those locations featuring the digital 3D presentation. The extra $2-3 per ticket that exhibitors charged for the new technology also helped to pump up the grosses. The three-day period saw $21.2M in sales. Valentine showed how strong demand is for an interesting horror film at the beginning of the year as it followed the strong $19.8M debut of last weekend's PG-13 supernatural thriller The Unborn. Critics were surprisingly upbeat for Valentine. This was that rare weekend when the best reviewed new release was a gory horror flick.

Close behind in fourth place, but with the heaviest average of the weekend, was the biopic Notorious which grossed $23.4M from only 1,638 theaters. Averaging a sizzling $14,282, the R-rated story of the slain rap superstar gave Fox Searchlight the biggest debut in company history. It was also the best opening weekend average for a wide release since November's Twilight. The three-day bow was $20.5M. Reviews were mixed for Notorious which attracted the multicultural fans of the late music star. Searchlight's choice of release date was no coincidence as it knew that a film about a popular African American entertainer would sell opening over Martin Luther King weekend, and just days before the Obama Inauguration.

Kids and tweens lined up for the comedy Hotel for Dogs which debuted in fifth place with $17M over three days and $22.9M over the long holiday frame. The PG-rated Paramount release averaged a respectable $6,990 over four days from 3,271 locations.

A pair of sophomore titles followed. The wedding comedy Bride Wars fell to $13.9M pushing its 11-day total to $39.7M. Budgeted at $30M, the Kate Hudson-Anne Hathaway pic should go on to gross about $65M for Fox. Universal's hit thriller The Unborn scared up $10.5M for a cume of $33.8M in 11 days. With a low $16M price tag, the PG-13 fright flick looks to reach $50M.

Paramount Vantage went nationwide with its Holocaust drama Defiance and ended up at number eight with a respectable $10.5M. The Daniel Craig pic averaged a moderate $5,875 from 1,789 sites and has taken in $10.9M since its platform debut on New Year's Eve. Two-time box office king Marley & Me followed in ninth with $7.5M. The Fox overachiever raised its impressive total to $133.9M making it the top-grossing film of Jennifer Aniston's career when in a lead role.

A sweep of last Sunday's Golden Globes helped make Jamal Malik a richer kid. Slumdog Millionaire, winner of Best Picture - Drama and three other trophies, lost 19 theaters but saw sales surge to $7M leading to a potent $12,065 average from 582 locations. The three-day tally of $5.8M soared 55%. Fox Searchlight has already taken in $43.9M and will expand the indie hit nationwide to about 1,300 runs this Friday, a day after Academy Award nominations are announced. Slumdog jumped up a spot to number one in the United Kingdom this weekend and will open in India on Friday.

Other films winning Globe statues also saw their grosses rise. Searchlight's The Wrestler which took home two awards for Best Actor - Drama for Mickey Rourke and Best Song for Bruce Springsteen more than doubled its take to $2M. The film also expanded by 84 theaters and averaged a sturdy $14,196 from 144 sites. Kate Winslet's Revolutionary Road, which won her a Best Actress - Drama prize, grossed $2.2M, up 25% over the three-day portion. The Paramount Vantage release averaged a solid $12,626 per location over four days from 171 playdates and will expand nationwide this Friday into 800 venues. Totals stand at $5.4M and $6.1M, respectively.

Those snubbed by the Hollywood Foreign Press suffered declines this weekend. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button dropped 40% (over the three-day portion) to $6.6M for Paramount lifting the total to $103.6M. The Meryl Streep pic Doubt fell 51% to $1.5M giving Miramax $25.5M to date. Declining 40% was Sean Penn's Milk with $942,359 and a $20.5M cume. Frost/Nixon slid by 25% to $818,615 putting the sum at $8.8M for Universal. A Best Picture nod from the Academy this week could revive any of these films in the weeks ahead.

Elsewhere below the top ten, Overture expanded its Dustin Hoffman-Emma Thompson comedy Last Chance Harvey from 16 to 1,054 theaters nationwide and posted $5M, a decent bow in a crowded marketplace. Averaging $4,755, the PG-13 title has collected $5.6M since its limited debut in late December. Warner Bros. released its first Bollywood film with Chandni Chowk to China and grossed $685,798 from 130 theaters for a respectable $5,275 average.

The top ten films grossed $184.7M over four days which was up an impressive 22% from last year when Cloverfield opened in the top spot with $46.1M; and up a stunning 68% from 2006's MLK frame when Stomp the Yard debuted at number one with $25.9M.

Compared to projections, the four new releases all soared higher than my three-day forecasts of $11M for Paul Blart: Mall Cop, $17M for My Bloody Valentine 3D, $13M for Notorious, and $14M for Hotel for Dogs.

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

For a NEW review of Paul Blart: Mall Cop visit The Chief Report.

Be sure to check back on Thursday for a complete summary, including projections, for next weekend when Inkheart and Underworld: Rise of the Lycans both open opposite expanding Oscar contenders.

A full list of all Academy Award nominees and box office grosses will be published on Thursday morning and updated throughout Oscar season.

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

# Title Jan 16 - 19 Jan 9 - 11 % Chg. Theaters Weeks AVG Cumulative Distributor
1 Paul Blart: Mall Cop $ 39,234,238 3,144 1 $ 12,479 $ 39,234,238 Sony
2 Gran Torino 25,606,399 29,484,388 -13.2 2,972 6 8,616 76,603,810 Warner Bros.
3 My Bloody Valentine 3D 24,103,962 2,534 1 9,512 24,103,962 Lionsgate
4 Notorious 23,393,472 1,638 1 14,282 23,393,472 Fox Searchlight
5 Hotel for Dogs 22,865,512 3,271 1 6,990 22,865,512 Paramount
6 Bride Wars 13,878,727 21,058,173 -34.1 3,228 2 4,299 39,705,852 Fox
7 The Unborn 10,545,075 19,810,585 -46.8 2,359 2 4,470 33,784,230 Universal
8 Defiance 10,510,082 68,183 1,789 3 5,875 10,850,710 Par. Vantage
9 Marley & Me 7,514,652 11,391,425 -34.0 2,952 4 2,546 133,923,935 Fox
10 Slumdog Millionaire 7,021,727 3,782,340 85.6 582 10 12,065 43,858,932 Fox Searchlight
11 The Curious Case of Benjamin Button 6,585,296 9,212,515 -28.5 2,223 4 2,962 103,610,033 Paramount
12 Bedtime Stories 6,168,048 8,802,120 -29.9 2,619 4 2,355 105,073,339 Buena Vista
13 Last Chance Harvey 5,011,596 141,671 1,054 4 4,755 5,602,513 Overture
14 Valkyrie 4,556,379 6,617,065 -31.1 2,007 4 2,270 78,276,485 MGM
15 Yes Man 3,088,360 6,032,337 -48.8 1,704 5 1,812 94,043,254 Warner Bros.
16 Not Easily Broken 2,370,071 5,314,278 -55.4 725 2 3,269 2,370,071 Sony
17 Revolutionary Road 2,158,979 1,425,346 51.5 171 4 12,626 6,109,157 Par. Vantage
18 Twilight 2,119,782 2,841,852 -25.4 904 9 2,345 184,585,393 Summit
19 The Wrestler 2,044,246 848,410 141.0 144 6 14,196 5,356,214 Fox Searchlight
20 The Reader 1,518,171 1,346,742 12.7 417 6 3,641 7,808,169 Weinstein Co.
Top 5 $ 135,203,583 $ 90,957,086 48.6
Top 10 184,673,846 121,541,116 51.9
Top 20 220,294,774 141,300,893 55.9
Top 20 vs. MLK 2008 220,294,774 177,768,050 23.9

Last Updated: January 20, 2009 at 7:00PM ET