Weekend Box Office (January 28 - 30, 2011)

by Gitesh Pandya

THIS WEEKEND New films with demons and assassins enjoyed moderate debuts while Oscar contenders for Best Picture scored solid sales figures but the overall North American box office remained stuck in a funk. Another snowstorm affected theaters in the Northeast but a weekend with no football made audiences more available.

Opening at number one with a respectable but not stellar debut was the supernatural thriller The Rite starring Anthony Hopkins which scared up $14.8M, according to final studio figures, which was enough to lead the weak frame. The Warner Bros. release about an American sent to the Vatican to study with a priest that specializes in exorcisms averaged a decent $4,955 from 2,985 locations. Reviews for the PG-13 pic were poor. Given the lack of scary movies since Halloween and the past success of exorcism-related films, a larger opening could have been expected. Last summer's no-star mockumentary The Last Exorcism debuted to $20.4M. The CinemaScore for Rite was a B and the film skewed older as 64% of the crowd was 25 and over.

Dropping a notch to second place, but holding up very well in its sophomore frame, was the Natalie Portman-Ashton Kutcher comedy No Strings Attached with $13.4M. Declining by only 32%, the Paramount release raised its ten-day tally to a solid $39.5M and could see a final gross of $70-80M. Unlike many other recent star-driven comedies, Strings was not too expensive to produce thanks to a $25M budget and will turn into a nice moneymaker for its backers. A lack of football this weekend certainly helped the female-skewing pic broaden its audience to include more young men.

Jason Statham's latest action vehicle The Mechanic opened in third with $11.4M and reached the higher end of the range the actor has seen lately when anchoring a film. The R-rated remake of the 1972 Charles Bronson film averaged a decent $4,226 from 2,703 theaters for CBS Films. It was the second widest debut ever for a Statham-anchored action film behind only the 3,303 playdates for Transporter 2. Mechanic's bow came as good news to the action star who has stumbled in recent years with Crank: High Voltage and The Bank Job which debuted with $7M and $5.9M, respectively, but bounced back last summer as one of the main ingredients in Sylvester Stallone's action hit The Expendables.

To no surprise, Mechanic played best to the guys. The audience was 61% male and 64% over the age of 25. The CinemaScore was only a B- but the Friday-to-Saturday increase of 30% was more than twice the 14% of the frame's other new release The Rite. CBS Films paid only $5M for North American rights plus P&A.

Sony's The Green Hornet fell only 37% to $11.2M and enjoyed a good hold pushing its 17-day total to $78.5M on its way to a little past the $100M mark.

Best Picture contender The King's Speech, which led all films with a dozen Academy Award nominations last week, saw its ticket sales surge thanks to the extra media attention and 877 additional screens. The Weinstein Co. release took in $11.1M, up a solid 41%, from 2,557 theaters after an expansion from 1,680 sites. Its average of $4,327 was only slightly down from last weekend's $4,676. The Colin Firth-Geoffrey Rush drama has banked a strong $72.2M and is now headed past the $100M mark. Fueling its Oscar momentum, Speech director Tom Hooper won the top prize on Saturday from the Directors Guild of America boosting his odds significantly for winning the comparable award at the Oscars. Until this weekend, The Social Network's David Fincher had been seen as the front-runner.

Rival Best Picture foe True Grit enjoyed a bump at the box office too inching up 3% to $7.5M. But unlike Speech, Grit actually lost theaters. Paramount's hit Western now stands at $148.3M and is on course to reach more than $175M which is incredible for the genre and for the Coen brothers. The Dilemma suffered the worst decline in the top ten sliding 38% to $5.7M upping the cume to a lackluster $40.8M for Universal.

Another pair of contenders for the top Oscar followed, each displaying potent legs. Fox Searchlight's Black Swan dropped 13% to $5.1M and was followed by Paramount's The Fighter which took in $4M for a scant 5% dip. Both films have been in wide release since December 17 and shed some screens this round. Totals stand at $90.7M and $78.3M, respectively. Still on the road to nine-digit territory, the leggy kidpic Yogi Bear rounded out the top ten with $3.2M, off 17%, for a $92.5M total.

Fox Searchlight re-expanded its other Best Picture contender 127 Hours going from 69 to 916 locations and collected $2.1M this weekend bumping the cume to $13.5M.

The Mexican-American comedy From Prada to Nada saw a soft debut in limited release opening to $1.1M from 256 theaters. Lionsgate's pic about privileged Beverly Hills sisters forced to move to a tough Latino neighborhood in East Los Angeles averaged a mild $4,358. The Spanish-language drama Biutiful, featuring an Oscar-nominated performance by Javier Bardem, fared well in its limited bow grossing $456,930 from 59 sites in the United States and Puerto Rico for a solid $7,745 average. Including previous grosses from its Oscar-qualifying run in late December, the Roadside Attractions title has taken in $619,240 to date. Snubbed during the early part of awards season, the serious drama about a dying father has now entered the spotlight thanks to nods for Best Foreign Language Film and Best Actor.

The top ten films grossed $87.3M which was down 16% from last year when Avatar stayed in the top spot with $31.3M; and off 9% from 2009 when Taken opened at number one with a surprisingly strong $24.7M.

Compared to projections, The Rite opened below my $19M forecast while The Mechanic was close to my $10M prediction.

Get earlier box office updates and analysis by following BoxOfficeGuru.com on Twitter.

Check the UPDATED box office charts for the Oscar Nominee Grosses and Top 2010 Blockbusters. For a review of The Fighter visit The Chief Report.

Be sure to check back on Thursday for a complete summary, including projections, for next weekend when Sanctum and The Roommate both open over Super Bowl weekend.

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# Title Jan 28 - 30 Jan 21 - 23 % Chg. Theaters Weeks AVG Cumulative Distributor
1 The Rite $ 14,789,393 2,985 1 $ 4,955 $ 14,789,393 Warner Bros.
2 No Strings Attached 13,410,229 19,652,921 -31.8 3,022 2 4,438 39,502,304 Paramount
3 The Mechanic 11,422,006 2,703 1 4,226 11,422,006 CBS Films
4 The Green Hornet 11,184,361 17,677,565 -36.7 3,524 3 3,174 78,485,016 Sony
5 The King's Speech 11,064,781 7,854,910 40.9 2,557 10 4,327 72,179,688 Weinstein Co.
6 True Grit 7,518,265 7,330,092 2.6 3,120 6 2,410 148,305,900 Paramount
7 The Dilemma 5,665,730 9,108,890 -37.8 2,905 3 1,950 40,824,185 Universal
8 Black Swan 5,118,269 5,869,744 -12.8 2,315 9 2,211 90,722,310 Fox Searchlight
9 The Fighter 3,960,280 4,164,504 -4.9 1,914 8 2,069 78,278,204 Paramount
10 Yogi Bear 3,167,440 3,819,395 -17.1 2,133 7 1,485 92,509,281 Warner Bros.
11 Little Fockers 2,573,930 4,320,090 -40.4 2,051 6 1,255 144,727,470 Universal
12 TRON: Legacy 2,529,097 3,647,121 -30.7 1,505 7 1,680 166,732,184 Buena Vista
13 Tangled 2,526,561 3,081,926 -18.0 1,589 10 1,590 189,576,785 Buena Vista
14 127 Hours 2,136,801 118,557 1702.3 916 13 2,333 13,510,921 Fox Searchlight
15 Country Strong 1,274,454 2,082,688 -38.8 1,287 6 990 18,806,281 Sony
16 Blue Valentine 1,186,124 877,815 35.1 415 5 2,858 6,063,224 Weinstein Co.
17 From Prada to Nada 1,115,638 256 1 4,358 1,115,638 Lionsgate
18 The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage... 884,917 1,353,936 -34.6 732 8 1,209 101,814,753 Fox
19 Season of the Witch 778,183 2,297,299 -66.1 1,110 4 701 23,710,663 Relativity
20 Gulliver's Travels 726,653 1,159,012 -37.3 653 6 1,113 40,973,767 Fox
Top 5 $ 61,870,770 $ 61,624,378 0.4
Top 10 87,300,754 83,445,232 4.6
Top 20 103,033,112 97,933,286 5.2
Top 20 vs. 2010 103,033,112 120,630,401 -14.6

Last Updated: January 31, 2011 at 5:35PM ET

Watch Gitesh Pandya's weekly box office preview on CNN International airing live each Thursday at 7:40pm ET.