Twentieth Century Fox's "Marley & Me" remained top dog at the box office, beginning the new year as it ended the last one -- as the weekend's biggest-grossing film.
The movie, based on John Grogan's bestseller about his life with an untrainable yet lovable Labrador retriever, took in an estimated $24.1 million in ticket sales over the weekend for a total box-office haul of $106.5 million over two weeks. The movie stars Jennifer Aniston and Owen Wilson.
"When you're No. 1 for two weeks in a row, you're obviously doing business because people are talking about it," said Bert Livingston, general sales manager for 20th Century Fox Films. "The word of mouth is great."
There's not much new at the box office for moviegoers to howl about. Studios tend to roll out new films before the start of the holiday season in hopes of catching movie fans with extra time on their hands.
That leaves only a handful of would-be Oscar contenders, such as director Edward Zwick's film "Defiance," opening in a limited number of theaters before the start of the new year.
Studio executives "want to get the movies out early in the holiday, with a lot of breathing room, to benefit from all the traffic that the holiday brings theaters," said Brandon Gray, publisher of online movie publication and reporting service Box Office Mojo.
"That's at the cost of the week following, because you're not going to see many, if any, pictures open," he said.
The box-office deja vu continued with Walt Disney Studios' "Bedtime Stories," the Adam Sandler film about a hotel maintenance worker who spins yarns that come true for his niece and nephew.
The film came in second for the weekend, garnering $20.3 million for a total two-week gross of $85.4 million, according to box-office tracking company Media by Numbers.
Chuck Viane, Disney's president of distribution, said the two Adams -- Sandler and director Adam Shankman -- delivered the kind of lighthearted entertainment that children and families sought over the holidays, "something to kick back, laugh and have a good time."
Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett's film "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button," based on the F. Scott Fitzgerald short story about a man who ages in reverse, ranked No. 3. The Paramount Pictures release brought in $18.4 million over the weekend, for a total of $79 million.
The Nazi thriller "Valkyrie," starring Tom Cruise as Col. Claus von Stauffenberg, one of a group of German military officers who plotted to kill Adolf Hitler, took in $14 million over the weekend for fourth place. That brings the total for the United Artists/MGM release to $60.7 million.
Although weekend box-office results for the top four films remained strong, ticket sales for all but "Bedtime Stories" dropped by about a third, a sign that the films are losing their hold among moviegoers, Gray said. Receipts for "Bedtime Stories" fell 26%.
Weekend box-office receipts totaled $150 million, up 7.6% from a year earlier, evidence that moviegoers are still flocking to the theaters even in tough financial times, said Paul Dergarabedian, president of Media by Numbers.
Rounding out the top five films for the weekend was "Yes Man," the Jim Carrey comedy from Warner Bros., which took in $13.9 million over the weekend for a domestic total of $79.4 million.
Among the most promising of the limited-release films was Clint Eastwood's "Gran Torino" from Warner Bros. The film brought in $2.8 million, even though it was in only 84 theaters nationwide. The movie earned nearly $33,600 per theater, an indication, Gray said, that the drama might be well-received by moviegoers when it enters wide release Friday.
"Defiance," which is based on a true story about brothers who fought the Nazis and rescued hundreds of Jews, opened in only two theaters -- but brought in $60,500 per theater.
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Preliminary results in the U.S. and Canada, based on studio projections:
*--* Movie 3-day gross Total Weeks (studio) (millions) (millions)
1 Marley & Me $24.1 $106.5 2 (20th Century Fox)
2 Bedtime Stories (Walt Disney 20.3 85.4 2 Studios)
3 The Curious Case of Benjamin 18.4 79.0 2 Button (Paramount Pictures)
4 Valkyrie (United Artists/MGM) 14.0 60.7 2
5 Yes Man (Warner Bros.) 13.9 79.4 3
6 Seven Pounds (Sony/Columbia 10.0 60.0 3 Pictures)
7 The Tale of Despereaux (Universal 7.0 43.7 3 Pictures)
8 Doubt (Miramax) 5.0 18.7 4
9 The Day the Earth Stood Still 4.9 74.3 4 (20th Century Fox)
10 Slumdog Millionaire 4.8 28.8 8 (Fox Searchlight) *--*
*--* 3-day gross Change Year-to-date gross Change (in millions) from 2008 (in millions) from 2008 $150 +7.6% $208.6 +39.1% *--*
Source: Media by Numbers