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BOX OFFICE

Big crowds still seek 'National Treasure'

December 31, 2007|Josh Friedman | Times Staff Writer

The adventure sequel "National Treasure: Book of Secrets" was once again the big draw at the weekend box office, taking in an estimated $35.6 million, but it was the little guys that posted the biggest surprises.

The singing, computer-generated critters of "Alvin and the Chipmunks" scrounged up $30 million to place a strong second in the final weekend of the year, scurrying past the Will Smith thriller "I Am Legend," according to Sunday's studio estimates.

" 'Alvin' is the family picture for everyone," said Bert Livingston, 20th Century Fox's senior vice president of distribution. "You can bring your grandmother, your 7-year-old kid or your teenager."

The quirky comedy "Juno," meanwhile, jumped into the top five in its first wide expansion.

The political romp "Charlie Wilson's War" kept defying doubters with a solid second weekend.

And the lacerating drama "There Will Be Blood" hit pay dirt in its limited opening, entering the Oscar race with a bang.

The breadth of titles lifted overall receipts in the U.S. and Canada by 14% from the last weekend of 2006, research firm Media by Numbers said. After a lousy autumn, results have perked up in the last few weeks.

For the year, revenue of $9.59 billion is 4.1% higher than 2006, although the rise is from higher ticket prices. Attendance is essentially flat, according to Media by Numbers' estimates.

Walt Disney Co.'s "National Treasure" sequel, starring Nicolas Cage, dipped 20% from its opening weekend and has hauled in $124 million through 10 days. At this rate it would top its 2004 predecessor, which grossed $173 million domestically and $348 million worldwide.

"Alvin" climbed 6% in its third weekend, bringing its domestic total to about $142 million.

"I Am Legend" racked up an additional $27.5 million to rank No. 3 in its third weekend, Warner Bros. said, raising the film's total to $195 million. It also took in $46.1 million abroad, boosting its global total above $300 million.

Universal Pictures' "Charlie Wilson's War," starring Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts and Philip Seymour Hoffman, added $11.8 million in its second weekend -- a 22% surge from its pre-Christmas opening.

Several films this year exploring war, U.S. foreign policy and Middle East tensions had been major box-office disappointments, including "In the Valley of Elah," "Lions for Lambs," "Rendition" and "The Kingdom."

But "Charlie Wilson's War," an account of how a playboy congressman, a socialite and a CIA agent aided Afghan rebels in the early 1980s, is the exception that is enticing adults with its star turns and pointed comedy.

"Juno," starring Ellen Page as a pregnant teenager and Michael Cera as her pal, reaped $10.3 million by averaging $10,300 per theater -- the best in the top 10.

Fox Searchlight financed the film for $7.5 million. Through four weekends it has tallied more than $25 million, putting it on pace to become the specialty distributor's biggest hit.

"Everyone is calling 'Juno' this year's 'Little Miss Sunshine,' but it really doesn't have a precedent," said Peter Rice, president of the News Corp.-owned company.

"Little Miss Sunshine" took in $7.6 million in its best weekend, he noted; "Sideways" did as much as $6.3 million. Both were at more than 1,600 theaters, versus almost 1,000 for "Juno."

"There is such a humanistic quality to this film," Rice said. "That's why we're not only playing in the art houses but crossing over at the big suburban multiplexes."

Over the weekend, for example, "Juno" recorded the highest ticket sales at a 24-plex in Columbus, Ohio, he said.

After a solid opening on Christmas Day, 20th Century Fox's "Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem" has faded fast. The R-rated creature-feature sequel fell far short of analysts' expectations and took in $10.1 million over the weekend, ranking sixth.

Two other movies also opened wide on the holiday.

The Loch Ness monster fantasy "The Water Horse: Legend of the Deep" met expectations with a $9.2-million first weekend, distributor Sony Pictures said. The audience for the PG-rated film, produced by Revolution Studios and Walden Media, was 69% families.

Weinstein Co. and distributor MGM's "The Great Debaters," a social drama starring and directed by Denzel Washington, narrowly missed the top 10, coming in at the lower end of expectations with $6.3 million.

Harvey Weinstein, co-founder of Weinstein Co., said he was encouraged by the movie's 15% increase in revenue Saturday from Friday. "That's word-of-mouth kicking in," he said.

Opening solely at the Arclight in Hollywood and an upscale New York theater, writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson's acclaimed "There Will Be Blood" averaged some $92,000 per location. Starring Academy Award front-runner Daniel Day-Lewis as an oilman on the California frontier, the film skewed male and over age 30.

It scored the year's best per-theater average, eclipsing the $69,000 for Michael Moore's documentary "Sicko." Of course, the film's true test will come as it expands beyond the hipster crowd.

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