SUNDAY AM: Twentieth Century Fox’s The Day The Earth Stood Still opened to an excellent $11.5M Friday and $11.8M Saturday (+2%) and an estimated $7.6M for Sunday for a solid $31M weekend. IMAX accounted for 12.5% of the opening weekend gross with $3.8M from 123 screens. Internationally, the day-and-date release opened in 90 markets (but only 11 of the top 16) and made $39M. So that’s a worldwide total after its first weekend of $70M. However, rival studios tell me that the pic’s Cinemascore was the hard-to-achieve “C-” (when it’s rare to see anything below a “B”), with moviegoers over age 25 giving it a “D”. No wonder the PG-13 pic has only 21% positive reviews by top critics on Rotten Tomatoes, despite starring Keanu Reeves, and Oscar winners Jennifer Connelly and Kathy Bates. Since the sci-fi film has this weekend all to itself (after Will Smith’s Seven Pounds vacated the date), it had a veritable guarantee of getting past $30M if not a total stinker. For weeks now, this reimagining (no one ever calls it a remake anymore) of the 1951 black-and-white sci-fi classic had been tracking well. Encouraging, since Fox was running only 35% of its TV ad money at the time. There was “very strong” wanna-see with older males followed by younger males, even registering a solid “first choice”. On the other hand, there was virtually no female appeal. But the studio then spent 65% of its TV ad money over the last 8 days, and interest among gals picked up going into Friday’s release. The studio had other reasons to be bullish: it had 120 Imax runs, and 12:01 AM Friday plays in about 500 locations of its overall 3,560 theaters, and a day-and-date release into 90 overseas markets this weekend. So the pic should break the studio’s losing streak that began at the start of the summer. “Fantastic opening, better than we were looking for. We’re in for a great run because its $80M negative cost means a very profitable pic,” one Fox exec gushed. But the concensus in Hollywood is that The Day The Earth Stood Still is unlikely to get to a $100M box office lifetime domestically with all the competition coming up — including Fox’s own Marley And Me which is tracking like a blockbuster.

But the real news of the weekend is the Warner Bros’ opening of Clint Eastwood’s Oscar-buzzed Gran Torino Friday night in 6 theaters (3 in NY, 3 in LA). The drama grossed $75K Friday and $112.5K Saturday for a total $269.6K with the best per screen average — $47,340 — of all the weekend films. That’s TWICE as much as his Best Picture-winning Million Dollar Baby made on December 17, 2004 in the same theaters ($37,208 total, per screen average $6,201.) “Clint is the man!” a top Warner Bros exec gushed to me this morning. Also, the Miramax Oscar-touted Doubt opened with $525K this weekend and a giant per screen average on 15 screens of $35,002. Box office was driven by strong reviews, the quality of the ensemble cast including Meryle Streep and Phillip Seymour Hoffman, and a great marketing campaign. The exit polls were “very strong”, I hear.

In fact, all the smaller Oscar-touted pics in release already are doing remarkably well. Focus Features’ Oscar-buzzed Milk widened into 328 runs for a $2.6M weekend — good enough for 9th place — and a $7.6M cume. It experienced another strong weekend with a sizeable 58% bump from Friday to Saturday revealing “sustained, positive word of mouth”, according to the studio. Core houses are contributing 50% of the gross to the weekend total with the expansion markets strongest in smart-house/art-house and college markets. Imagine/Universal’s Week #2 limited release of Frost/Nixon made $630K at 39 theaters with a per theater average of $16,160. Its cume to date is $878K. Friday to Saturday saw a 70% increase demonstrating the film’s strong word of mouth, the best jump of any other adult choice this weekend. The pic will expand on Christmas Day into the top 100 markets (about 350 theaters) with a full wide break in January. And Fox Searchlight’s Slumdog Millionaire took in $2.2M this weekend from 169 runs for a new cume of $8M.

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Two other films were released this weekend. Overture Films’ Latino-flavored Nothing Like The Holidays, with its unlikely pairing of Debra Messing and John Leguizamo, opened No. 7 in 1,671 venues which don’t necessarily need another dysfunctional family laugher when Four Christmases is still in cineplexes. Formerly titled Humboldt Park, the PG-13 pic debuted with $3.5M for the weekend. And Fathom Studios’ children fantasy toon Delgo released by Freestyle into 2,160 dates missed the Top 10 entirely and opened to an abysmal $465K weekend.

As for the holdovers, 2nd place went to Warner Bros’ Four Christmases (3,540 theaters) which has good hold with a $13.2M weekend and new cume of $87.9M. Hanging on for No. 3 was Summit Entertainment’s Twilight (3,649) in week #4. It made $8M over the weekend playing in 3,649 theaters for a new cume of $150.1M. Disney’s Bolt (3,133) was #4 and added another $7.5 million this weekend — helped by an original Pixar short for Cars — for a new cume of $88.8M. No. 5 went to 20th Century Fox’s Australia (2,703) epic which earned $4.2M for a new cume of $37.8M. MGM/Sony’s latest Bond actioner Quantum Of Solace (2,635) took in $3.8M this weekend an 6th place for a fresh cume of $157.6M. in #8, DreamWorks’ sequel Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa (2,768) made $3.2 million this weekend for a huge new cume of $170M. And, rounding out the Top 10, Lionsgate’s Transporter 3 (2,541) made $2.2M this weekend for a new cume of $29.2M.