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UPDATE: Record $1 Billion January Box Office — But Don’t Tell SAG!

SUNDAY NOON: According to MediaByNumbers.com, “this has been the first billion dollar January capped off by the biggest overall Super Bowl weekend as the nation’s theatres score a touchdown and the extra point.” Super Bowl Weekend this year totaled $129 million for all films in the marketplace and beat last year’s $127.7 million by 1%. Meanwhile, Kevin James’ Paul Blart: Mall Cop, (which has contributed $83.4 million to the January bottom line) and Clint Eastwood’s Gran Torino (which has added around $100 million to January’s coffers) helped make the January record of $180+ million a reality. “There’s no question that going to the movies has become a favorite recessionary passtime.”

The Super Bowl, pirated copies circulating on the web, and a lovable mall cop heating up the box office all should have depressed the North American grosses for 20th Century Fox’s thriller Taken opening. But the Liam Neeson-starrer, directed by District B13‘s Pierre Morel, and produced by Luc Besson, tackled those obstacles and turned up the testosterone for $9.5 million Friday and $12M Saturday (+30%) from 3,183 theaters. That’s way more than what Hollywood expected the film would make all weekend. Now, Taken‘s total is up to $24.6M assuming a modest $3+M Sunday because of football hoopla. Fox originally told me hitting $14M would be “an unqualified success”, and anything higher “just plain fantastic”. Now, this weekend total elicits from the studio “WOW!” (No wonder Hollywood agencies were recently in hot pursuit of Morel as a client.) It’s the 2nd best Super Bowl weekend debut behind only Hannah Montana‘s concert film for last year. Knowing that the pic’s audience would be led by older males, and moviegoers on Super Bowl Sunday can fall off by as much as 75%, the studio went into the weekend hopeful but unsure. “Younger males are also showing some interest, and we’ve managed to get some traction with older females,” one Fox exec told me about this PG-13 film that pushes the envelope of the MPAA’s movie ratings system. “This is one of those gambles that just hit the jackpot.”

Columbia/Sony’s Paul Blart: Mall Cop continues to shock the January box office. “Where will this phenom end? Who knows?” asks one rival studio exec in an email to me. (Meanwhile, kudos to MGM’s Mary Parent for locking Kevin James into a pay or play deal back before Christmas for his next movie, 2010’s The Zookeeper. She must be psychic cuz nobody predicted this hit.) The PG comedy was No. 2 for its 3rd week — only -35% — to earn $4.1 million Friday and $7.6M Saturday for another big $14M weekend and new cume of $83.3M. “If Paul Blart was in the Super Bowl, he would get called for holding,” Sony yukked Sunday.

DreamWorks/Paramount’s suspense pic The Uninvited starring Elizabeth Banks debuted so-so on Friday and Saturday with $4.4 million apiece in 2,344 venues for No. 3 and a $10.5M weekend despite its short 87-minute running time. It had decent interest by young females but only 1/2 as much by young males. But a similar attempt at counter-programming the Super Bowl fared no better — Lionsgate’s New In Town, a tired fish-out-of-water story starring Rene Zellweger with moderate interest from older females. (That’s a career in freefall.) By being out on only 1,941 locations, it opened No. 8 with only a $6.7M weekend.

With a new cume of $48M, Paramount’s Hotel For Dogs keeps getting the kiddie matinee bump, this time for No. 4 and an $8.7M weekend. That’s neck-and-neck with the $8.6M for Clint Eastwood’s morality tale Gran Torino which soared past the magic $100M mark for a $110.5M total. Here’s the Top 10:

1. TAKEN (20th Century Fox) OPENER –> $24.6M Weekend [3,183 theaters]
2. PAUL BLART: MALL COP (Sony) 3rd week –> $14M [3,206] cume $83.3M
3. THE UNINVITED (DreamWorks/Paramount) OPENER –> $10.5M [2,344]
4. HOTEL FOR DOGS (Paramount) 3rd week –> $8.7M [3,160] cume $48.2M
5. GRAN TORINO (Warner Bros) 8th week –> $8.6M [3,015] cume $110.5M
6. SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE (Fox SL) 12th week –> $7.6M [1,633] cume $67.2M
7. UNDERWORLD 3 (Sony) 2nd week –> $7.2M [2,942] cume $32.7M
8. NEW IN TOWN (Lionsgate) OPENER –> $7M [1,941]
9. MY BLOODY VALENTINE 3-D (LG) 3rd week –> $4.2M [1,406] cume $44.6M
10. INKHEART (New Line/Warner Bros) 2nd week –> $3.7M [2,665] cume $12.7M