Weekend Box Office (January 23 - 25, 2009)

by Gitesh Pandya

THIS WEEKEND Sony became the first studio in over a year to seize control of the top two spots at the box office as its Kevin James comedy Paul Blart: Mall Cop remained at number one for a second straight week while its new werewolf thriller Underworld: Rise of the Lycans opened close behind in second place with a solid showing. Movies nabbing Oscar nominations saw their grosses jump, some more dramatically than others, with a handful using the opportunity to expand their runs nationwide. The overall North American box office remained robust and beat year-ago numbers for the fifth consecutive weekend.

Paul Blart cemented its position as the first blockbuster of 2009 with a relatively low decline in its sophomore frame dipping only 32% to $21.6M, according to final studio figures. That put the ten-day cume for the PG-rated laugher at a sensational $64.9M. With a slender $26M production cost, Mall Cop looks on track to find its way to at least $120M if not more, establishing James as a bankable leading man in the lucrative comedy genre. Sony has another PG-rated bumbling crime-fighter comedy coming in two weeks in the form of The Pink Panther 2 with Steve Martin.

The Kate Beckinsale-less franchise flick Underworld: Rise of the Lycans enjoyed a solid debut in the runnerup spot with $20.8M from 2,942 sites for a healthy $7,080 average. The R-rated effects-driven prequel held up well for the third film in the series and the first without its primary star. Expectations were that without Beckinsale, Lycans would not match the openings of the past films which were $21.8M for 2003's Underworld and $26.9M for 2006's Underworld: Evolution. The third installment cost $35M to produce with adult men making up the primary audience segment. According to studio research, 59% of the crowd was male and 55% was over 25.

The last time one studio claimed the top two spots was over the November 16-18 frame in 2007 when Paramount had Beowulf opening on top and Bee Movie dropping a spot to second.

Despite being shut out by the Clint-loving Academy, Gran Torino posted an impressive hold in its third weekend of wide release dipping 26% to $16.2M. That pushed the cume up to $97.8M putting the Warner Bros. release on course to cross the $100M mark by Thursday. Dropping 24% and holding up quite well was the kidpic Hotel for Dogs which collected $12.9M for fourth place. Paramount's total after ten days is a commendable $37.5M.

Powered by its ten Oscar nominations, and nationwide expansion from 582 to 1,415 locations, Fox Searchlight's Slumdog Millionaire surged 83% this weekend to $10.7M allowing the acclaimed pic to enter the top five for the first time in its eleven-week run. Winning the top prizes from both the Producers Guild of America and the Screen Actors Guild this weekend, the Danny Boyle-directed film also earned the highest per-theater average of any film with a solid $7,562 per site. The total for the $14M-budgeted indie has climbed to $56.1M surpassing the $48.7M of big Fox's awards hopeful Australia which cost a hefty $130M to produce.

The horror flick My Bloody Valentine 3D tumbled 53% in its sophomore outing grossing $10M. With $37.7M scared up in ten days, the Lionsgate release should find its way to roughly $55M.

Apparently moviegoers looking for a fantasy adventure about a man who brings stories to life by reading books got their fill last month from Adam Sandler. The similarly-themed Inkheart starring Brendan Fraser opened poorly in seventh place with $7.6M from 2,655 locations for a weak $2,863 average. The New Line production was released by Warner Bros. and earned lackluster reviews.

Fox's wedding comedy Bride Wars followed in eighth with $6.9M, off 41%, for a $48.6M cume to date. Brad Pitt's The Curious Case of Benjamin Button scored the most Academy Award nominations of any film with 13 and enjoyed a modest bump in sales increasing 9% to $6.1M to raise the total to $111.1M. Since the Paramount release has been in wide release since its Christmas Day bow and no major expansion was done this weekend, the box office boost was not expected to be too large given that it has already reached a large audience over the past month. Button did, however, break the Top 20 chart of top-grossing releases from 2008 bumping Tropic Thunder off the list.

Rounding out the top ten was the rap saga Notorious which tumbled 72% in its second weekend to $5.8M. The Fox Searchlight release pulled most of its audience out on the first weekend leaving little left for future frames. With $31.9M to date, a $35-40M final seems likely.

With Oscar nominations announced on Thursday morning, several distributors pre-planned expansions for nominated films this weekend hoping to cash in on the extra publicity. Revolutionary Road, one of the major pics snubbed by the Academy with no nods in the top categories, widened from 171 to 1,058 and grossed $5.2M for a moderate $4,901 average. Starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet, the Paramount Vantage release has taken in $11.8M and faces a tough road ahead without major Oscar ammo. Fox Searchlight's The Wrestler expanded from 144 to 571 playdates and banked $3.7M for a solid $6,560 average. With a pair of acting nominations for Mickey Rourke and Marisa Tomei, the award-winning drama upped its total to $9.6M.

The three Best Picture nominees with the smallest odds of winning the big prize also saw grosses increase. Universal went nationwide with its political drama Frost/Nixon and took in $3M from 1,099 theaters for a mild $2,750 average. Securing five Oscar nominations, the Ron Howard-directed film has taken in $12M to date and isn't generating too much moviegoer excitement. The Reader, which also scored five nods, climbed 9% this weekend to $1.4M for a $9.7M sum for The Weinstein Co. The Sean Penn film Milk rose 12% to $884,715 giving Focus $21.6M since its Thanksgiving release. The film bagged eight nominations from the Academy.

The top ten films grossed $117.6M which was up 9% from last year when Meet the Spartans opened in the top spot with $18.5M; and up a strong 44% from 2006 when Epic Movie debuted at number one with $18.6M.

Compared to projections, Underworld: Rise of the Lycans bowed close to my $18M forecast while Inkheart debuted below my $12M prediction.

Be sure to check the UPDATED box office chart for the Oscar nominees and grosses.

For a NEW review of Inkheart and a NEW DVD review of Zack and Miri Make a Porno visit The Chief Report.

Be sure to check back on Thursday for a complete summary, including projections, for next weekend when The Uninvited, Taken, and New in Town all open.

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

# Title Jan 23 - 25 Jan 16 - 18 % Chg. Theaters Weeks AVG Cumulative Distributor
1 Paul Blart: Mall Cop $ 21,623,182 31,832,636 -32.1 3,144 2 $ 6,878 $ 64,923,380 Sony
2 Underworld: Rise of the Lycans 20,828,511 2,942 1 7,080 20,828,511 Sony
3 Gran Torino 16,244,462 21,979,069 -26.1 3,045 7 5,335 97,819,975 Warner Bros.
4 Hotel for Dogs 12,860,944 17,012,212 -24.4 3,271 2 3,932 37,455,759 Paramount
5 Slumdog Millionaire 10,699,629 5,849,157 82.9 1,415 11 7,562 56,065,245 Fox Searchlight
6 My Bloody Valentine 3D 10,012,658 21,241,456 -52.9 2,534 2 3,951 37,687,394 Lionsgate
7 Inkheart 7,601,379 2,655 1 2,863 7,601,379 Warner Bros.
8 Bride Wars 6,868,664 11,651,553 -41.0 2,621 3 2,621 48,570,928 Fox
9 The Curious Case of Benjamin Button 6,085,919 5,576,862 9.1 2,263 5 2,689 111,129,482 Paramount
10 Notorious 5,779,692 20,497,596 -71.8 1,641 2 3,522 31,874,538 Fox Searchlight
11 Defiance 5,666,785 8,911,827 -36.4 1,793 4 3,161 18,564,544 Par. Vantage
12 Revolutionary Road 5,185,146 1,783,093 190.8 1,058 5 4,901 11,784,049 Par. Vantage
13 The Unborn 4,359,865 9,341,985 -53.3 2,111 3 2,065 39,230,025 Universal
14 The Wrestler 3,745,643 1,702,695 120.0 571 7 6,560 9,557,610 Fox Searchlight
15 Marley & Me 3,031,969 6,138,859 -50.6 2,036 5 1,489 138,092,165 Fox
16 Frost/Nixon 3,022,250 669,425 351.5 1,099 8 2,750 12,005,811 Universal
17 Last Chance Harvey 2,865,298 4,299,805 -33.4 1,108 5 2,586 9,529,976 Overture
18 Bedtime Stories 1,955,408 4,726,059 -58.6 1,660 5 1,178 107,600,474 Buena Vista
19 Valkyrie 1,509,786 3,802,679 -60.3 1,110 5 1,360 80,740,385 MGM
20 The Reader 1,403,410 1,285,036 9.2 367 7 3,824 9,661,121 Weinstein Co.
Top 5 $ 82,256,728 $ 112,562,969 -26.9
Top 10 118,605,040 154,456,350 -23.2
Top 20 151,350,600 183,918,098 -17.7
Top 20 vs. 2008 151,350,600 135,214,754 11.9

Last Updated: January 26, 2009 at 5:45PM ET