MONDAY AM: Wishing you a joyous New Year, and better quality movies at the box office. (Oh yeah, as if that’s gonna happen. Read my LA Weekly column about 2007’s orgy of sequels coming to a megaplex near you.) At the box office there was very little “new” about the Top 10 movies since all were holdouts. So this 4-day weekend is really about the studios optimizing their heavily marketed assets and getting the most $$$ out of the holiday moviegoing frame. “The rich get richer,” as one b.o. guru told me. The top two films passed $100 million and firmly established Ben Stiller and Will Smith as huge draws. Meanwhile, co-producers Paramount and Dreamworks were singing about their Dreamgirls take of $41.6 million (revised) for its first 8 days of wide release after expanding from 3 to 852 theaters on Christmas Day when it boasted the best single day ever for a musical. The Motown-inspired pic’s studios are embracing exit polls with a 95% favorable rating — the highest execs there claim they’ve ever seen — and collecting reports of cheering and standing ovations from inside theaters in Maryland, Florida, Pennsylvania and Missouri. Finally, Morgan Creek / Universal’s The Good Shepherd, starring Matt Damon and directed by Robert DeNiro, is showing enough strength to soar into 4th place, especially surprising considering its R rating, only 2,218 theater count, and long running time.

goodshepherd.jpgOnce again (big yawn), No. 1 went to Fox’s Night at the Museum, and that four-quadrant hit passed $100 mil Saturday to finish its 4-day holiday with $125.5 mil. (Still, I pity the poor parents who have to sit through this middling comedy twice…) Playing in 3,768 theaters, it earned $13.4 mil Friday (+11% over a week ago) and $13.5 mil Saturday (+8%) and $9.4 mil Sunday (+65%) and an estimated $9.9 mil Monday — for a $46.5 mil four-day holiday. In 2nd place, with 2,870 theaters, Sony’s The Pursuit of Happyness raked in $6.7 mil Friday (up a whopping 27%) and $7.5 mil Saturday (+18%) and $4.9 mil Sunday (+58%) and an estimated $5.4 mil Sunday to enable a $103.7 mil cume. For anyone keeping score, this is Will’s 10th film over $100 mil — and Sony’s scored 5 of ’em (Pursuit, the two Men In Blacks, Hitch and Bad Boys 2). As for the 4-day weekend, it did $24.7 mil its 3rd week in release. Moving up several notches was Dreamworks / Paramount’s Dreamgirls — popping into #3 with the best per screen average of the Top 10. It earned $4.8 mil from only 852 theaters Friday, $5.6 mil Saturday and $3.5 mil Sunday and an estimated $4.5 mil Monday. The Motown musical took in $18.6 mil for the 4-day holiday ($20.3 mil according to the studio). Before you think that’s $$$ lite, remember the small theater count, and that musicals rarely make $20 mil in their opening week.

rocky.jpgThe Good Shepherd took 4th place with $3.6 mil Friday and $4.2 mil Saturday and $3 mil Sunday and an est $3.9 mil Monday. That made for a $15 mil four-day holiday. Paramount’s Charlotte’s Web spun into 5th from 3,745 venues. The live action book adaptation earned $4.6 mil Friday and $4.2 mil Saturday and $2.8 mil Sunday and an estimated $3.2 mil Monday for what was a $14.9 mil long weekend and new cume of $55.7 mil. Falling to 6th place, MGM’s Rocky Balboa, in 3,019 playdates, made $3.8 mil Friday, and $4.2 mil Saturday and $2.4 mil Sunday and an est. $2.9 mil Monday. Sly ended with a $13.5 mil four-day holiday and new cume of $50.7 mil. Best News? This well-received sequel will not only pass the non-inflated gross of the dreadful Rocky V but the inflated gross as well. In 7th place was Fox’s Eragon, eking out $3 mil from 2,985 venues Friday and $3.2 mil Saturday and $2 mil Sunday and an est. 3.1 mil Monday for what was an $11.4 mil four-day wkd. charlottesweb.jpgThanks to a heavy TV marketing campaign, Warner’s We Are Marshall, playing in 2,606 theaters, jumped up to No. 9 with $2.9 mil Friday and $3 mil Saturday and $2.1 mil Sunday and an est. $3 mil Monday for a #9 finish and a $11.1 mil four-day holiday. Nothing can keep #9 Warner’s Happy Feet outta the Top 10 even after seven weeks out; it took in $2.9 mil from 2,606 playdates Friday and $2.8 mil Saturday and $2 mil Sunday for a whopping new cume around $178.3 mil. It made $10 mil for the 4-day holiday. And in 10th place, Sony’s The Holiday finally grabbed those tired women shoppers to make $2.3 mil from 2,698 theaters Friday and $2.5 mil Saturday and $1.6 mil Sunday and an est. $2.2 mil Monday. That’s an $8.5 mil long weekend and new cume of $51.8 mil. I’m pleased to note that Dimension / MGM’s Black Christmas, disgustingly released on Christmas Day, is not performing, making only $4.7 mil this long weekend for a new cume of $11.9 mil.

childrenofmen.jpgThis week’s newcomers include several critic favorites with Oscar buzz playing in just a few venues to qualify for Academy consideration: Picturehouse’s Pan’s Labyrinth ($199K from 17 theaters Fri, $224K Sat and $136K Sun and an est. $201K Mon for a $770K four-day weekend), Universal’s The Children of Men ($171K from 16 theaters Fri, $196K Sat and $124K Sun and est. $174K Mon for a $678K long weekend), Fox Searchlight’s Notes On A Scandal ($138K from 22 theaters Fri, $166K Sat and $119K Sun and an est. $146K Mon for a $570K four-day weekend), and Dreamworks / Paramount’s Perfume ($14K from 3 screens Fri, $15K Sat and $8K Sun and an est. $13K Mon for a $50K long weekend). Plus, four from Weinstein / MGM: Miss Potter ($3K from 2 theaters Fri, $4K Sat and $3K Sun and an est. $4K Mon for a $14K long weekend), Arthur And The Invisibles, Factory Girl, and Fast Track. Per screen champs among all movies were Pan’s Labyrinth ($11,712 Fri and $13,176 Sat) and Children of Men ($10,688 Fri and $12,250 Sat). Finally, Oscar contender Letters From Iwo Jima, directed by Clint Eastwood, earned $121K from 5 theaters this four-day holiday for a new cume of $349K.