SUNDAY PM: Marley stayed top dog! That’s because, understandably, family fare was what post-holiday moviegoers wanted this 4-day holiday weekend. So all Top 10 films were PG or PG-13 rated. Attendance on Christmas Day was enormous, with the top two pics setting all-time records for the holiday. Even the cold and snowy weather cooperated. Good thing too because Hollywood had been hotly anticipating the Christmas Day openings of five high-profile movies with potential to be blockbusters (because Christmas releases on average have a 6.9 multiple). Only one movie’s debut disappointed. Overall, it’s looking like a jolly $190 million 3-day weekend, up 5% from last year. Here are very early numbers for the Top 10 with Oscar-buzzed films below:

1. Marley And Me (20th Century Fox)
$37M 3-day weekend… $51.6M 4-day holiday
Hollywood underestimated the built-in audience for this pic based on the bestselling book. Expected to be runner-up, it easily held onto No. 1 all weekend in 3,480 theaters. (I hope the pooch had first-dollar gross.) When it comes to North American filmgoer favorites, don’t ever bet against a dog movie. Remember how well Beverly Hills Chihuahua debuted earlier this year? Marley‘s strength was in the middle of the country and in the south, and clearly its female-driven audience brought their boyfriends and husbands and families and Kleenex. Concern that moviegoers weren’t adequately prepared for the plot denouement, not even hinted at by the pic’s marketing, proved not to be a problem. Fox needed a hit film after a lousy summer and fall littered with losers. Chalk up one in the “win” column as well for both Owen Wilson and Jennifer Aniston.

2. The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button (Paramount)
$27.2M 3-day weekend… $39M 4-day holiday
This pic could have scored more if only its running time hadn’t been 2 hours and 47 minutes long. Still its box office was bigger than expected in 2,988 dates, proving skeptics wrong that this would be “Hollywood’s most expensive art flick”. The Brad Pitt-Cate Blanchett starrer directed by David Fincher was strongest on both coasts and mostly female driven. But its heavy marketing for a hefty price succeeded in delivering both moviegoers and awards buzz. (Studio boss Brad Grey feels a special obligation to try to win an Oscar for his former management client Brad Pitt and their once joint production company Plan B.) Strong word of mouth could push Benjamin Button to a great multiple through the holidays.

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3. Bedtime Stories (Disney)
$28.1M 3-day weekend… $38.6M 4-day holiday
This had been expected to lead the pack this weekend since it was Disney-branded family fare starring Adam Sandler with the widest release of 3,681 plays and its 99-minute running time allowed for extra screenings daily. Blame all those kiddie matinees and their half-price tickets. Or the awful reviews that hurt word of mouth. Still, the pic’s grosses were big — just not big enough to qualify as this holiday season’s Night At The Museum, which made $575M worldwide.

4. Valkyrie (MGM/UA)
$21.5M 3-day weekend… $30M 4-day holiday
This didn’t flop like Tom Cruise’s other film for UA, Lions For Lambs. But Valkyrie‘s Fri-Sat-Sun grosses were less than his opening weekends for even his least successful action pics like Collateral, The Last Samurai, and Vanilla Sky (and not adjusted for inflation or higher ticket prices). So Tom’s star power continues to dim. But it’s still much brighter compared to the dark place where Valkyrie was a few months ago. What with Cruise in Nazi war movie, directed by Bryan Singer still living down his underperforming Superman Returns, with an ever-changing release date, the pic was a Hollywood joke. But $60M worth of smart marketing turned it around. Sure, Hollywood analysts don’t see how this pic will earn out unless it’s a blockbuster overseas where Cruise is still considered a huge star. (Lions For Lambs did 3x its domestic take overseas.) But Valkyrie tracked well with males aged 16+ and stole away the weekend’s guy audience.

5. Yes Man (Warner Bros)
$16.5M 3-day weekend… $22.4M 4-day holiday… cume $49.8M
The studio is pleased with this comedy’s hold and thinks it can get to $100M domestic. I say it’ll be a struggle. The real suspense is whether Jim Carrey gets a payday on this film. (See my previous, The Worst Talent Deal Ever?)

6. Seven Pounds (Sony)
$13.4M 3-day weekend… $18.2M 4-day holiday… cume $39M
Sony certainly did what it could to hype this pic, short of giving away the plot twists. With the same star and same director but without the happy ending, the film was no Pursuit Of Happyness juggernaut at the box office. But it was down only 10% from its weather-hurt opening last weekend. Now there’s a limit to how much fans will support Will Smith’s downer film choices.

7. The Tale of Despereaux (Universal)
$9.4M 3-day weekend… $11.4M 4-day holiday… cume $27.9M
This earnest mouse toon keeps playing very young. But is it too young for parents?

8. The Day the Earth Stood Still (20th Century Fox)
$7.9M 3-day weekend… $10.6M 4-day holiday… cume $63.4M
Well, some people are seeing it. Unclear if they’re liking it, however.

9. The Spirit (Lionsgate)
$6.5M 3-day weekend… $10.3M 4-day holiday
Not every comic book can become a hit movie. Movie analysts didn’t expect much life from this adaptation of Will Eisner’s graphic novels despite a flashy marketing campaign. Lionsgate shouldn’t have tried to brave the Christmas competition.

10. Doubt (Miramax)
$5.7M weekend… $7.1M 4-day holiday… cume $7.5M
Strong cast, heavy TV ad rotation, and big award nominations created wannasee for the expansion into 1,267 venues.

As for other Oscar-buzzed pics: Fox Searchlight’s Slumdog Millionaire directed by Danny Boyle came in 13th place with a 3-day weekend of $4.4M and 4-day weekend of 5.8M Friday on 614 plays. Its new cume is $19.6M. Clint Eastwood’s Gran Torino for Warner Bros was #15 despite playing in only 84 theaters for the best Top 20 per screen average. It took in $2.3M for the weekend and $3.1M for the overall holiday. Its new cume is $4.2M, but look for the pic to pop when it goes wide into 2,400 theaters on January 9th. Revolutionary Road starring Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio debuted on 3 screens for $67K Friday and and $66K Saturday for a $192K weekend that scored the highest per screen average of $64K set all year. Paramount Vantage expands it into the top 15 markets next week. Focus Features’ Milk directed by Gus Van Sant and starring Sean Penn on 311 dates earned $570K Thursday and $670K Friday and $64K Saturday for a $1.8M weekend and cume of $13.5M. Imagine/Universal’s Frost/Nixon directed by Ron Howard made $$1.9M for the 4-day holiday from 205 runs for a per theater average of $7,179 and new cume of $3.7M. The Weinstein Co’s The Reader with Ralph Fiennes and Kate Winslet can’t build any steam with $178K and $205K from 116 venues for a slow per screen average. And Fox Searchlight’s The Wrestler starring Mickey Rourke playing in 18 theaters maintained an excellent per screen average with $381K for the weekend and $515K for the overall holiday and a new cume of $900K.  

SATURDAY AM: North American numbers show Fox’s Marley & Me based on the bestselling book easily holding onto No. 1 Friday in 3,480 theaters with $14M for a huge projected 4-day holiday of $52.5M. (I hope the studio is purchasing a few treats for the pooch being pimped out.) Paramount’s Oscar-touted The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button starring Brad Pitt wound up #2 with $10.2M in 2,988 dates and a 4-day holiday estimate of $38.7M. Which is surprising since it’s playing in 700 fewer venues dates and has a much longer running time — 99 minutes vs 167 minutes — than Disney’s 3rd place Bedtime Stories which was expected to lead all the pics this weekend. The Adam Sandler starrer made $10M in 3,681 runs Friday, thanks to kiddie matinees and gumball dreams kicking in, and what may be a strong 4-day holiday of $39.5M. MGM/UA’s Valkyrie sticks at #4 adding another $8.1M grosses from 2,711 dates for what should be a 4-day holiday of $30.5M. Tom Cruise can breathe easy now: he’s still a star. The pic’s $22M Fri-Sat-Sun estimate is only slightly less than his opening weekends for Collateral, The Last Samurai, and Vanilla Sky not adjusted for inflation or higher ticket prices.

Warner Bros’ holdover Yes Man starring Jim Carrey is staying at #5 with a solid $5.9M Friday and a predicted 4-day holiday of $22.4M. Sony’s Seven Pounds holds for 6th with $4.8M Friday and a 4-day holiday estimate of $18M. Children packed Universal’s The Tale Of Despereaux enabling the toon mouse to scamper into No. 7 with $3.2M Friday and a $11.5M projection for the 4-day holiday. In 8th place, Fox’s The Day the Earth Stood Still made $2.7M Friday for what should be a 4-day holiday of $10.5M. But #9, Lionsgate’s The Spirit, went from a little disappointing debut to a lot disappointing despite its comic book roots with $2.6M and a projected 4-day holiday of $10.8M. “A true wipeout,” a rival studio exec tells me. Rounding out the Top 10, Miramax’s Oscar-touted Doubt got a nice 30% bump from Christmas Day after expanding into 1,267 theaters for $1.M and an estimated 4-day holiday of $7M.

FRIDAY 8 AM: Christmas Day was “enormous” for the movie industry with the top two pics setting all-time records for the holiday, studios are telling me. Latest estimates for Thursday box office nationally are: No. 1 Fox’s Marley And Me $14.6M in 3,480 theaters, No. 2 Paramount’s The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button $11.8M from 2,988 venues, No. 3 Disney’s Bedtime Stories $10.5M for 3,681 runs, and No. 4 MGM/UA’s Valkyrie $8.3M from 2,711 plays, No. 5 Warner Bros’ Yes Man $5.8M for 3,434 theaters, No. 6 Sony’s Seven Pounds $4.8M in 2,758 dates, and No. 7 Lionsgate’s The Spirit $3.8M from 2,509 venues.

When it comes to North American moviegoing habits, this rule is primo — don’t ever bet against a pooch. So my info is that 20th Century Fox’s Marley And Me based on the bestselling book is beating the competition “by a mile”. Driven by women moviegoers, the Owen Wilson tearjerker about a man and his dog did twice what was expected — as did No. 2, Paramount’s Oscar buzzed The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button starring Brad Pitt. “It’s a classic dovetail: Marley‘s strength is smack in the middle of the country and the south, while Button is strong on both coasts,” one studio insider tells me. I also hear Benjamin Button is rapidly selling out today because of demand and a long running time. Bedtime Stories had been expected to lead the pack of five films opening today. But watch out for it tomorrow because of the Adam Sandler starrer’s short running time and kiddie matinees all holiday weekend. Tom Cruise’s Valkyrie is definitely doing business and won’t flop like his other film for UA, Lions For Lambs), but at least it’s not stillborn. In 5th place is holdover Sony’s Seven Pounds, again demonstrating Will Smith’s box office drawing power even in a downer film. Taking a hit from the new openers is Warner Bros’ Yes Man comedy which moved down from 1st to 6th. Will Jim Carrey get a payday on this film? (See my previous, The Worst Talent Deal Ever?)

  1. Xmas Weekend Predictions