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`Museum' is exhibiting strength

The movie is the No. 1 draw for a third straight weekend. `Children of Men' gains steam.

January 08, 2007|Josh Friedman | Times Staff Writer

Movie audiences embraced two wildly different styles of fantasy over the weekend, as the comedy "Night at the Museum" stayed No. 1 at the box office and the critically acclaimed futuristic thriller "Children of Men" drew large crowds.

Twentieth Century Fox's "Night at the Museum," starring Ben Stiller, led the industry for the third straight weekend by adding $24 million to its total in the U.S. and Canada, according to Sunday's estimates from studios.

"This truly is one of those movies that works for all audiences -- from age 8 to 80 and from Maine to Maui," said Chris Aronson, a Fox distribution executive. "It has comedy, special effects and a story with a lot of heart."

The studio has capitalized on a dearth of high-profile new releases, as January is often seen as a dumping ground for lower-profile films.

"Museum" appears to be a bona fide blockbuster that will ultimately top $200 million in domestic receipts. No film has led the box-office derby for four straight weekends since "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King" more than three years ago -- a feat "Museum" could match next weekend.

Another holdover film, Sony Pictures' father-son drama "The Pursuit of Happyness," grossed an estimated $13 million to place second for the weekend. The film, which has brought in about $124 million through four weekends, has held up strongly with star Will Smith in the thick of the Oscar chase.

Universal Pictures was elated with the performance of director and co-writer Alfonso Cuaron's "Children of Men" in expanded release.

The film, starring Clive Owen, Julianne Moore and Michael Caine, grossed an estimated $10.3 million, placing third in the standings with a robust average of $8,515 per theater.

The R-rated thriller, a chilling vision of a future in which infertility threatens the human race, drew crowds estimated at 53% ages 30 and older.

The studio had planned to widen the film's release this weekend to a few hundred theaters after two weeks in a small, awards-qualifying run. But executives stepped up their schedule, going to 1,209 theaters, after "Children of Men" landed on many critics' top-10 lists and played well in limited engagement.

"This movie had a lot of heat, so we seized the moment," said Nikki Rocco, Universal's president of domestic distribution.

Mixed results greeted three new releases.

Faring best among them was Paramount Pictures' "Freedom Writers," the true-life tale of a Long Beach teacher, portrayed by Hilary Swank, who inspires her students to learn tolerance, apply themselves and pursue higher education. It placed fourth for the weekend with an estimated $9.7 million.

"The interest level always seems to increase when you have an upbeat, compelling story based on real people and real events," said Jim Tharp, Paramount's president of domestic distribution.

The MTV-branded film drew young and ethnically diverse audiences estimated at 50% African American, 30% white and 20% Latino.

Its wide release was moved up by a week to build momentum for the Martin Luther King Day holiday. Next weekend it will expand to about 2,000 engagements.

Lions Gate's animated, PG-rated comedy fairy tale "Happily N'Ever After" failed to break through like "Hoodwinked" did as a surprise hit for Weinstein Co. in January 2006. Instead, the film fared about as analysts expected with an estimated $6.8 million.

And New Line Cinema's crime comedy "Code Name: The Cleaner," starring Cedric the Entertainer, failed to crack the top 10, opening at $4.6 million.

On the art-house circuit, Picturehouse's "Pan's Labyrinth" posted strong results in its second weekend of limited release. The Spanish-language movie, whose distributor is a joint venture between New Line and HBO Films, averaged $16,500 per theater in 44 engagements after expanding in Los Angeles.

"This shows the film can cross over and not just be pigeonholed as a foreign picture," company President Bob Berney said.

Berney described writerdirector Guillermo del Toro's dark fantasy -- which over the weekend was named the year's best picture by the National Society of Film Critics -- as " 'The Lord of the Rings' meets Picasso's 'Guernica.' "

Industrywide, revenue was up about 2% from a year earlier. Receipts rose about 4% in 2006 as Hollywood bounced back a bit from its 2005 slump.

Next weekend's releases include Walt Disney Co.'s horror movie "Primeval" and Sony's urban dance drama "Stomp the Yard."

But the toughest competition for "Night at the Museum" could come from Paramount's Oscar contender "Dreamgirls." The studio will expand the musical, which has grossed $54.5 million through four weekends, to 1,800 theaters in the next phase of its gradual rollout.

josh.friedman@latimes.com

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Box office

Preliminary results (in millions) in the U.S. and Canada, based on studio projections:

*--* Movie 3-day gross Total Night at the Museum $24.0 $164.1

The Pursuit of Happyness 13.0 124.2

Children of Men 10.3 11.9

Freedom Writers 9.7 9.7

Dreamgirls 8.8 54.5

Happily N'Ever After 6.8 6.8

Charlotte's Web 6.6 67.0

The Good Shepherd 6.5 48.4

Rocky Balboa 6.3 60.9

We Are Marshall 5.1 35.4

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Industry totals

*--* 3-day gross Change (in millions) from 2006 $132.0 +2.3%

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*--* Year-to-date gross Change (in billions) from 2006 $0.3 +10.0%

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Source: Media by Numbers

Los Angeles Times

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