Weekend Box Office (January 25 - 27, 2008)

*** 2008 Oscar Nominees and Grosses ***

by Gitesh Pandya

THIS WEEKEND Moviegoers chose an army of spoof comedians over an aging one-man killing machine as Meet the Spartans outgunned Sylvester Stallone's Rambo to claim the number one spot in a close race at the North American box office. Both new releases walked away with solid performances and should become moneymakers. Ticket buyers also flocked to see the Academy Award nominees for Best Picture with four of the five contenders posting sales increases. Many box office milestones were also reached as Juno surpassed $100M, Alvin and the Chipmunks and National Treasure: Book of Secrets both cracked the $200M mark, and I Am Legend vaulted past the $250M barrier. Overall, the box office remained healthy and showed incredible depth as for the first time ever in the month of January, seven different movies topped $10M in weekend grosses.

Teens and young adults wanted laughs and they got them from Fox's latest spoof comedy Meet the Spartans which won a slim victory with $18.5M in its opening weekend, according to final studio figures. The PG-13 pic averaged a muscular $7,104 from 2,605 sites and debuted on par with the studio's other early-year spoof hits Epic Movie which bowed on top to $18.6M a year ago this week and Date Movie which enjoyed a second-place launch in February 2006 with $19.1M. All three films came from Hollywood's current spoof kings Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer.

Spartans used the same formula of sending up recent blockbuster hits and pop culture favorites and young people showed up showing no signs of getting sick of the genre. The $18M production featured no A-list stars and instead relied on recognizable faces like muscle man Kevin Sorbo, hip hop star Method Man, spoof queen Carmen Electra, and Borat's Ken Davitian. Date and Epic reached $48.5M and $39.7M respectively so Fox looks to have another profitable venture on its hands.

Sylvester Stallone lost out on bragging rights at the box office this weekend, but his new action flick Rambo still performed well opening to $18.2M. Produced by Lionsgate and The Weinstein Company, the R-rated shoot-em-up vehicle averaged an impressive $6,617 per location. It was the first adventure for the character in nearly two decades following long after 1988's Rambo III. The first three films helped to define the action genre in the 1980s grossing a combined $610M worldwide. As expected, Rambo skewed heavily male with 67% of the audience being men, according to studio research. The age breakdown was evenly split between those over and under the age of 25. Although Rambo settled for the runnerup spot domestically, it should become a much bigger hit overseas than Spartans.

Katherine Heigl's romantic comedy 27 Dresses held up well in its second weekend grossing $13.4M for a moderate drop of 42%. Fox has collected an impressive $45.1M in the first ten days and could be headed for a $80M finish. Dresses cost $30M to produce.

Not as lucky in its sophomore frame was last weekend's top film Cloverfield which tumbled 68% to $12.7M taking fourth place. The $25M sci-fi actioner has grossed a solid $64.3M in ten days and should end its run with roughly $85M for Paramount.

Diane Lane's new crime thriller Untraceable enjoyed a respectable opening in fifth place with $11.4M from 2,368 theaters for a solid $4,795 average. The R-rated pic about an internet killer played to young adults with 59% of the audience falling within the 18-34 age range, according to studio research. Sony's latest release was budgeted in the $30M range and played evenly to men and women with females making up 51%.

The Jack Nicholson-Morgan Freeman flick The Bucket List continued to show strong legs and slipped just 25% to $10.5M in its third weekend of nationwide release. Cume is $58M.

Fox Searchlight's hit comedy Juno became the company's first ever $100M blockbuster over the weekend as its four Academy Award nominations helped to keep the quirky film strong. The pregnancy pic lost 108 theaters but saw its gross inch up 2% to $10.2M boosting the cume to $100M. Oscar buzz has given this year's top-grossing Best Picture nominee renewed interest in the marketplace. Produced for less than $10M, Juno should now find its way to more than $125M domestically.

Armed with eight Academy Award nominations, Paramount Vantage expanded its oilman saga There Will Be Blood by more than doubling its run and jumped up to the number nine spot with $4.9M. The Daniel Day-Lewis starrer averaged a solid $5,502 from 885 locations after widening from 389 sites last week. Cume is now $14.7M. The specialty distributor is using a strategy similar to the one employed by Warner Bros. three years ago for Million Dollar Baby by slowly building buzz in late December and January before expanding nationally on the weekend after the Oscar nominations are announced. The wait allows a hard-to-sell pic to gather enough kudos to validate it before making a big push with the paying public. Blood will expand again on Friday reaching 1,350 to 1,500 total sites and hopes to keep the black gold coming in.week after week.

Rounding out the top ten were National Treasure: Book of Secrets with $4.9M, off 35%, and Mad Money with $4.6M, down 41%. Disney's adventure sequel lifted its total to $205.7M while the heist comedy from Overture hit $15.3M after ten days. Money should finish off with about $25M.

Debuting quietly outside of the top ten was the stepdancing drama How She Move which bowed to $4M from 1,531 sites for a weak $2,585 average. Paramount Vantage attracted an urban audience of young females for the PG-13 film which was acquired at last year's Sundance Film Festival for $3M.

The concert film U23D, which had its premiere at this year's Sundance, rocked the box office opening in only 61 theaters to the tune of $964,315 for a powerful $15,808 average. Released by National Geographic, the G-rated Imax pic was shot in Mexico City and Buenos Aires on the band's lucrative Vertigo tour.

Four films including a pair of megablockbusters fell from the top ten this weekend. Fox's runaway smash Alvin and the Chipmunks eased just 35% to $4.5M in its seventh frame and boosted its amazing cume to $204.1M. The family comedy has performed well above expectations over the holiday season and beyond and smashed through the $200M mark on Friday, its 43rd day of release. Budgeted at under $70M, Alvin should conclude its domestic run with $215-220M.

Fellow December 14th opener I Am Legend hit a milestone of its own this weekend shattering the quarter-billion domestic mark. Will Smith's gargantuan hit grossed $2.2M, down 55%, for a total to date of $251.7M. The sci-fi thriller surpassed 1997's Men in Black to become the actor's second highest grossing film ever trailing the $306.2M of 1996's Independence Day. MIB still sold more tickets since its $250.1M gross a decade ago would amount to $370M+ at today's prices. Look for Legend to reach around $255M from North America and over $600M worldwide.

Another rapper-turned-actor, Ice Cube, saw his latest entry First Sunday tumble 58% to $3.3M in its third outing. The $20M Sony comedy has made off with $34.5M in 17 days and should end up in the vicinity of $40M. Best Picture nominee Atonement added screens but slipped 15% to $3.9M for a $37.9M sum. It was the only film up for Oscar's top prize to see sales decline from last weekend. Focus should, however, continue to see respectable numbers in the weeks ahead as the title remains a contender.

Other Academy Award-nominated films in the Best Picture race expanded too and captured a little more business. Miramax's No Country For Old Men, which won top honors on Saturday from the DGA for directors Joel and Ethan Coen and the top prize at the SAG Awards on Sunday, grossed $2.4M from 1,107 locations for a $2,189 average in its 12th frame. Warner Bros. put the George Clooney legal drama Michael Clayton back into wide release but collected just $2.2M from 1,102 playdates for a mild $2,019 average in its 17th weekend. Totals now stand at $52M and $41.7M, respectively. Major Oscar nods can lead to extra box office revenue for films that did not reach their full potential the first time around, however there are added marketing and distribution costs associated with these expansions too.

The top ten films grossed $109.2M which was up a remarkable 33% from last year when Epic Movie opened at number one with $18.6M; and up 17% from 2006 when Big Momma's House 2 debuted in the top spot with $27.7M.

Compared to projections, Meet the Spartans doubled my $9M forecast while Rambo was on target with my $18M prediction. Untraceable and How She Move also debuted close to my respective projections of $10M and $6M.

View the updated chart for this year's Oscar nominees and box office grosses.

Listen to the NEW episode of the weekly Projectionz podcast with Oscar analysis and predictions from The Hollywood Reporter critic Michael Rechtshaffen, Box Office magazine critic Wade Major, and BoxOfficeGuru.com editor Gitesh Pandya. For a review of Cloverfield visit The Chief Report.

Be sure to check back on Thursday for a complete summary, including projections, for next weekend when The Eye, Hannah Montana/Miley Cyrus: Best of Both Worlds Concert Tour, Over Her Dead Body, and Strange Wilderness all open over Super Bowl weekend.

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

# Title Jan 25 - 27 Jan 18 - 20 % Chg. Theaters Weeks AVG Cumulative Distributor
1 Meet the Spartans $ 18,505,530 2,605 1 $ 7,104 $ 18,505,530 Fox
2 Rambo 18,203,876 2,751 1 6,617 18,203,876 Lionsgate
3 27 Dresses 13,360,535 23,007,725 -41.9 3,074 2 4,346 45,107,889 Fox
4 Cloverfield 12,712,134 40,058,229 -68.3 3,411 2 3,727 64,306,110 Paramount
5 Untraceable 11,354,069 2,368 1 4,795 11,354,069 Sony
6 The Bucket List 10,532,406 14,078,871 -25.2 2,915 5 3,613 58,006,449 Warner Bros.
7 Juno 10,151,100 9,954,874 2.0 2,426 8 4,184 100,013,577 Fox Searchlight
8 National Treasure: BOS 4,916,131 7,550,254 -34.9 2,154 6 2,282 205,672,738 Buena Vista
9 There Will Be Blood 4,869,383 2,941,582 65.5 885 5 5,502 14,746,644 Par. Vantage
10 Mad Money 4,578,394 7,736,453 -40.8 2,470 2 1,854 15,252,568 Overture
11 Alvin and the Chipmunks 4,512,318 6,949,111 -35.1 2,430 7 1,857 204,121,451 Fox
12 How She Move 3,957,471 1,531 1 2,585 3,957,471 Par. Vantage
13 Atonement 3,918,160 4,596,844 -14.8 1,400 8 2,799 37,860,799 Focus
14 First Sunday 3,305,950 7,801,017 -57.6 1,503 3 2,200 34,473,158 Sony
15 No Country For Old Men 2,423,409 1,214,239 99.6 1,107 12 2,189 51,956,842 Miramax
16 Michael Clayton 2,225,260 44,735 1,102 17 2,019 41,653,439 Warner Bros.
17 I Am Legend 2,211,296 4,891,373 -54.8 1,405 7 1,574 251,666,936 Warner Bros.
18 The Pirates Who Don't Do Anything 1,295,385 2,606,175 -50.3 1,016 3 1,275 10,342,400 Universal
19 Sweeney Todd 1,217,632 2,680,098 -54.6 936 6 1,301 50,599,922 Paramount
20 U2 3D 964,315 61 1 15,808 1,181,065 National Geo.
Top 5 $ 74,136,144 $ 94,900,716 -21.9
Top 10 109,183,558 126,624,751 -13.8
Top 20 135,214,754 147,179,126 -8.1
Top 20 vs. 2007 135,214,754 105,344,467 28.4

Last Updated: January 28, 2008 at 6:45PM ET

Watch Gitesh Pandya's weekly box office preview on CNN International airing live each Friday at 9:50am ET.