Weekend Box Office (January 30 - February 1, 2009)

by Gitesh Pandya

THIS WEEKEND From Pittsburgh to Arizona and everywhere in between, moviegoers were in the mood for revenge as the Liam Neeson action thriller Taken shot past expectations debuting at number one over Super Bowl weekend. The frame's other new releases, the horror entry The Uninvited and the comedy New in Town, debuted to more moderate numbers while the top holdover pics posted solid holds. Overall, the North American box office was a virtual match with year-ago numbers capping off an impressive January at the multiplexes.

Not known for headlining commercial hits on his own, Liam Neeson anchored the kidnapping thriller Taken and scored a huge hit taking in $24.7M this weekend, according to final studio figures. It was the second biggest debut ever over Super Bowl weekend trailing just Hannah Montana & Miley Cyrus: Best of Both Worlds Concert which bowed to a colossal $31.1M last year this very session. Taken was expected to open in the mid-teen millions and not blast past the $20M mark as it did. Fox released the PG-13 film in 3,183 theaters and averaged a superb $7,765.

Studios have long avoided opening male-skewing action films over the Super Bowl frame fearing that they can't maximize their reach given the football distractions. However, Fox's move made sense since the big game only has a major impact on one day leaving Friday and Saturday open for strong business. Taken debuted on Friday to a stellar $9.4M and saw Saturday climb a healthy 24% to $11.6M. The studio saw a 68% Sunday tumble to $3.7M. Reviews were mixed.

Fox's marketing used the elements that have worked in recent years for the Jason Bourne and James Bond films. Commercials used quick cutting and highlighted the raw and gritty action scenes and hand-to-hand combat of a man on a mission. Neeson's name gave the film a well-respected acting talent in the lead. Taken is the eighth film to open near or above the $20M mark in the last four weeks.

Security guard lovers kept buying tickets for the Kevin James hit Paul Blart: Mall Cop which dropped a reasonable 36% to $13.9M for second place in its third weekend. The Sony smash has locked up a stellar $83.2M to date and could be on course to reach $125M giving the funnyman a bigger hit than the most recent comedy offerings from A-listers Jim Carrey, Will Ferrell, Steve Carell, and Ben Stiller.

Paramount released the horror remake The Uninvited hoping to lure in teenage girls but settled for a mediocre third place debut with $10.3M. The Americanized version of the Korean thriller A Tale of Two Sisters averaged a decent $4,405 from 2,344 locations. The PG-13 fright flick's opening did not match the bows of other horror films released over Super Bowl weekend like 2006's When a Stranger Calls ($21.6M), 2005's Boogeyman ($19M), or even last year's Hong Kong remake The Eye ($12.4M). Budgeted at $20M, The Uninvited attracted an audience that was evenly split between males and females with 50% of the audience being in the 18-34 age bracket, according to the studio.

The box office has been kind to all dog movies, even the Paramount kidpic Hotel for Dogs which slipped only 33% in its third lap to $8.6M. With a sturdy $48.2M banked in 17 days, the PG-rated comedy looks set to reach about $75M giving Nickelodeon Films another winner.

Gran Torino became the highest-grossing film ever for Clint Eastwood thanks to its weekend take of $8.2M which pushed the robust cume up to $110.2M. Off 49%, the Warner Bros. release may find its way to about $130M. Though Clint's biggest grosser, Torino has still sold fewer tickets than some of the Oscar winner's hits from the 1990s. Its admissions estimate of 15 million is far from the estimated 24 million stubs sold a piece for 1992's Unforgiven and 1993's In the Line of Fire.

Suffering the smallest drop in the top ten, Slumdog Millionaire dropped a notch to sixth with $7.6M for a 29% decline. Fox Searchlight added 222 theaters to the Oscar nominee's run and averaged $4,672 for the second best average of any film in wide release. Cume to date is $67.2M nearly half of which has come since winning four Golden Globes on January 11. Slumdog surpassed Little Miss Sunshine to become the third biggest grosser in company history for Searchlight trailing past Best Picture contenders Juno ($143.5M) and Sideways ($71.5M). Helmer Danny Boyle won the top prize from the Directors Guild of America this weekend adding to the film's long list of awards.

Sony's werewolf thriller Underworld: Rise of the Lycans suffered the worst decline in the top ten crashing 64% to $7.6M. The drop was more severe than those witnessed by the first two installments in the franchise which were 57% for 2003's Underworld and 58% for 2006's Underworld: Evolution. Budgeted at $35M, Lycans has grossed $33.2M in the first ten days and should end up at around $45M before finding a new audience on DVD.

Oscar winner Renée Zellweger showed little box office muscle with her new comedy New in Town which bowed to $6.7M from 1,941 sites for a mild $3,473 average. The PG-rated pic from Lionsgate co-starred Harry Connick Jr. and drew mostly poor marks from critics. Town was released as counter-programming hoping to attract adult women over the Super Bowl frame.

Tumbling 55% to ninth was the horror pic My Bloody Valentine 3D with $4.5M giving Lionsgate $44.8M to date. Rounding out the top ten was the fantasy adventure Inkheart with $3.7M, down 51%, for a $12.8M total after ten days. The Warner Bros. release should struggle to a $20-22M finish.

Among Oscar nominees for Best Picture, Paramount's The Curious Case of Benjamin Button dropped down to eleventh place with $3.5M, off 42%, raising the total to $116.5M - tops among the five contenders. Universal saw its political drama Frost/Nixon tumble 54% to $1.4M giving the pic a $14.3M cume. Per-theater averages were unimpressive figures of $1,667 and $1,270, respectively.

The two remaining nominees for the Academy's top honor both expanded and saw sales increase although their averages were diluted down to weak levels. The Reader widened from 367 to 1,002 sites and grossed $2.4M, up 70% while Milk expanded from 250 to 882 locations and collected $1.5M, up 67%. That represented a $2,376 average and $12.7M sum for The Weinstein Co. release and a $1,679 average and $23.5M tally for the Focus pic.

Other films trying to parlay Academy Award nominations into box office gold saw mixed results this weekend. Revolutionary Road which failed to score any nods for lead acting, writing, directing, or picture, fell 48% to $2.7M giving Paramount Vantage $16.1M to date. Fox Searchlight's The Wrestler starring nominees Mickey Rourke and Marisa Tomei took in $2.3M, down 38%, for a $13.1M cume. Miramax expanded Doubt by 198 theaters and saw sales slip only 1% to $836,997 upping the total to $28M. Averages were $3,204 for Wrestler, $2,483 for Road, and $1,390 for Doubt.

The top ten films grossed $95.9M which was up a scant 1% from last year when Hannah Montana opened in the top spot with $31.1M; and up a stellar 45% from 2007 when The Messengers debuted at number one with $14.7M.

Compared to projections, Taken surged past my $14M forecast while The Uninvited debuted a bit below my $13M prediction. New in Town bowed ahead of my $5M projection.

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

For a NEW review of Taken and a NEW DVD review of Zack and Miri Make a Porno visit The Chief Report. Also read the NEW DVD review of The All New Super Friends Hour Season 1 Volume 2.

Be sure to check back on Thursday for a complete summary, including projections, for next weekend when The Pink Panther 2, He's Just Not That Into You, Coraline, and Push all open.

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

# Title Jan 30 - Feb 1 Jan 23 - 25 % Chg. Theaters Weeks AVG Cumulative Distributor
1 Taken $ 24,717,037 3,183 1 $ 7,765 $ 24,717,037 Fox
2 Paul Blart: Mall Cop 13,872,751 21,623,182 -35.8 3,206 3 4,327 83,247,655 Sony
3 The Uninvited 10,325,824 2,344 1 4,405 10,325,824 Paramount
4 Hotel for Dogs 8,632,740 12,860,944 -32.9 3,160 3 2,732 48,156,061 Paramount
5 Gran Torino 8,232,278 16,244,462 -49.3 3,015 8 2,730 110,178,990 Warner Bros.
6 Slumdog Millionaire 7,628,713 10,699,629 -28.7 1,633 12 4,672 67,193,169 Fox Searchlight
7 Underworld: Rise of the Lycans 7,581,272 20,828,511 -63.6 2,942 2 2,577 33,165,746 Sony
8 New in Town 6,741,530 1,941 1 3,473 6,741,530 Lionsgate
9 My Bloody Valentine 3D 4,479,662 10,012,658 -55.3 1,406 3 3,186 44,827,233 Lionsgate
10 Inkheart 3,721,492 7,601,379 -51.0 2,655 2 1,402 12,813,023 Warner Bros.
11 The Curious Case of Benjamin Button 3,544,251 6,085,919 -41.8 2,126 6 1,667 116,473,266 Paramount
12 Bride Wars 3,524,896 6,868,664 -48.7 1,985 4 1,776 53,891,483 Fox
13 Revolutionary Road 2,674,320 5,185,146 -48.4 1,077 6 2,483 16,054,024 Par. Vantage
14 Defiance 2,503,514 5,666,785 -55.8 1,662 5 1,506 22,800,595 Par. Vantage
15 The Reader 2,380,376 1,403,410 69.6 1,002 8 2,376 12,655,858 Weinstein Co.
16 The Wrestler 2,313,149 3,745,643 -38.2 722 8 3,204 13,051,867 Fox Searchlight
17 Notorious 1,700,301 5,779,692 -70.6 1,080 3 1,574 35,011,149 Fox Searchlight
18 Milk 1,481,155 884,715 67.4 882 10 1,679 23,464,697 Focus
19 Frost/Nixon 1,403,550 3,022,250 -53.6 1,105 9 1,270 14,316,246 Universal
20 Last Chance Harvey 1,227,208 2,865,298 -57.2 893 6 1,374 11,694,498 Overture
Top 5 $ 65,780,630 $ 82,256,728 -20.0
Top 10 95,933,299 118,605,040 -19.1
Top 20 118,686,019 151,350,600 -21.6
Top 20 vs. 2008 118,686,019 119,411,635 -0.6

Last Updated: February 2, 2009 at 5:45PM ET