iamlegendphoto2.jpg

SUNDAY AM: Some amazing numbers were posted for this weekend’s No. 1 and No. 2 movie releases. Village Roadshow/Warner Bros’ I Am Legend opened $77.4 million — almost double the studio’s hoped-for $50 million — after making a whopping $30.2 million Friday and $29 million Saturday (-4%) in 3,606 theaters for first place. This more than demonstrates that Will Smith is now the biggest U.S. box office stud bar none and breaks his previous opening record (I Robot‘s $62 mil in summer). iamlegend_galleryfinal.jpgThis was easily the biggest December movie opening ever. Not only did I Am Legend soar past the numbers for King Kong‘s and Narnia‘s December debuts, but it passed all three of the Lord Of the Rings trilogy’s Christmas-timed openings as well, including Return Of The King‘s record-setting $72.6 mil.) The humongous hit is a badly needed life preserver for Warner Bros’ drowning movie division, which I’m told didn’t even have time to do a research screening on the film since it came in so late.

Smith is one of the few, if not only, Hollywood stars right now who tracks extremely well with both African-American and Hispanic audiences as well as whites. That accounts for why I Am Legend‘s numbers went through the roof even though its “last man on earth who’s not alone” subject matter is a downer. (This is the 3rd adaptation — Vincent Price starred in The Last Man On Earth and Charlton Heston in The Omega Man – based on the post-apocalyptic novel by Richard Matheson.) “But put Will Smith into it, and it really changes the equation,” a Warner Bros source told me. “It’s definitely tracking four quadrant.” I’m told the movie played broadly — almost equally male/female, under age 25/over 25, ethnic/non-ethnic — and playability was strong with all audiences being at or above the norms with males slightly stronger than females. That was evident even going into Friday, I was told, when the PG-13 thriller had definite interest among young males (74%), older males (67%), young females (56%) and older females (49%). The only question now is whether the East Coast storms will affect Saturday and Sunday turnout there, prompting one Warner exec to rue not having a degree in meteorology. The film cost $150+ mil and was 50/50 co-financed and produced by Village Roadshow.

alvinandthechipmunks_galleryposter.jpgMeanwhile, 20th Century Fox had a lot to celebrate this holiday season as well since its remake of baby boomer favorite Alvin And The Chipmunks wound up #2 with $44 million — more than double the $20 million that the studio anticipated for the weekend. The PG pic hauled in $13.3 million Friday and a hefty $19 million Saturday (+42%) in its 3,475 venue debut. As predicted, the Saturday kiddie matinees were huge since Moms especially felt pleasantly predisposed to take their kids to see The Munks. (I love the little guys. But can anyone actually understand anything that Alvin says?) Another reason that Fox is thrilled is because the studio claims the CGI-heavy pic cost only in the high $50 millions. Although tracking had been slow at first, the pic’s marketing did a good job of closing the gap by Friday when The Munks had 91% awareness.

The only other Top 10 newcomer this weekend was Yari Film Group’s PG-rated family comedy The Perfect Holiday which opened December 12th and then placed 7th after earning $693K Friday and $1 mil Saturday from just 1,307 dates.

And in only its second weekend in release, the bottom fell out of costly domestic flop The Golden Compass from New Line, which forked over $200+ million to make it. I know, I know, the pic is doing OK overseas after earning $50.9 mil from 27 territories December 7th-9th. But the fantasy epic is so lost domestically it earned only an anemic $2.6 million Friday and $3.7 million Saturday from 3,528 nearly empty runs for 3rd place and a new cume of just $40.5 mil. I hear studio topper Bob Shaye once again is blaming everyone but himself — including the movie’s director Chris Weitz, and also New Line’s own prez of production Toby Emmerich.

The rest of the Top 10 were holdovers. Here’s the chart:

  1. 1. I Am Legend/Warner Bros   $30.2M Fri, $29M Sat (est. cume $77.4M)
  2. 2. Alvin And The Chipmunks/Fox   $13.3M Fri, $19 Sat ($44.7M)
  3. 3. The Golden Compass/New Line   $2.6M Fri, $3.7 Sat ($40.5M)
  4. 4. Enchanted/Disney   $1.6M Fri, $2.4M Sat ($91.7M)
  5. 5. No Country For Old Men/Miramax $849K Fri, $1.1M Sat ($33.3M)
  6. 6. This Christmas/Sony $755K Fri, $985K Sat ($46M)
  7. 7. Fred Claus/Warner Bros   $701K Fri, $908K Sat ($68.7M)
  8. 8. The Perfect Holiday/Yari   $693K Fri, $1M Sat ($2.8M)
  9. 9. Atonement/Focus $527K Fri, $772K Sat ($2.9M)
  10. 10. August Rush/Warner Bros   $602K Fri, $723K Sat ($28M)