MONDAY AM: George Clooney’s Michael Clayton only placed 4th after Sunday.

SUNDAY AM: Everyone knew Tyler Perry’s Why Did I Get Married would do well at the box office this weekend. pre.jpgBut certainly not $21.5 million, well enough to double the gross receipts of Triple-A List star George Clooney’s adult legal drama Michael Clayton. How abundantly clear that Clooney’s domestic popularity as an actor isn’t what the media or Hollywood thinks it is. After all, his Warner movie is one of the best reviewed this early fall (90% on Rotten Tomatoes). But except for his ensemble movies — the franchise Ocean’s 11, 12 & 13 or A Perfect Storm or Batman & Robin– not one George Clooney-starring movie has ever opened big at the domestic box office despite plenty of hype. But he keeps getting hired as the top salaried star of pics especially at Warner because he’s considered a big name. Such is the decision making of Hollywood.

Producer-director-writer-actor Perry’s appeal to African American audiences went from solid to spectacular as the Lionsgate adaptation of his stage play was the No. 1 U.S. movie with the best per screen average ($4,550 Saturday) in its 2,011 theaters. pre1.jpgPerry is now one of Hollywood’s most reliable box office brands, again able to tap into a deep reservoir of comedic mayhem and melodrama that his moviegoers love seeing. This weekend, he was critic-proof, with reviewers generally rejecting his PG-13 film.

Disney’s family fare, The Game Plan started the weekend in 4th place. But The Rock in his 3rd weekend in release overheated Saturday matinees and overtook both Clooney and Phoenix and Wahlberg. The Game Plan‘s weekend gross was $11.5 million from 3,128 venues, bringing its cume to $59.4 million.

My box office analysts expected Warner’s R-rated Michael Clayton, which expanded into 2,511 theaters this weekend, to be the No. 1 film. Instead, this full-frills studio movie with its expensive ad campaign was only #3 (and even #4, according to some studio estimates) after making $11 million from 2,511 runs.

robert_duvall15.jpgNeck and neck with it was the R-rated We Own The Night, which Sony at Cannes paid a bargain $11 million for the domestic rights from Mark Cuban’s 2929 Productions. This thriller starring Joaquin Phoenix and Mark Wahlberg finished #4 with $11 mil from 2,362 plays. Reviews of the pic were mixed, and awareness so-so despite a sharp ad campaign. I’m told 51% of the audience was male, and 58% were under 30.

After a disappointing debut last weekend, DreamWorks / Paramount’s The Heartbreak Kid managed 5th place. The Ben Stiller starrer eked out $7.4 million this weekend from 3,233 dates, down 47%. Its new cume is $26 mill.

pre10.jpgIn only 6th place, Universal’s PG-13 Elizabeth: The Golden Age opened amid media attention and Oscar buzz since Cate Blanchett is one of Hollywood’s most celebrated actresses now. The costume drama’s opening box office of $6.1 million from 2,001 dates was lower than the studio would have liked but similar to Pride And Prejudice. It attracted an older audience with 2/3 over age 35.

As for the rest of the Top 10, Universal’s war thriller The Kingdom with Jamie Foxx placed 7th, entering its 3rd weekend in release taking in $4.5 million from 2,836 theaters for a new cume of $39.9 mil. At No. 8 was Sony / Revolution’s Across The Universe, directed by Julie Taymor and featuring The Beatles hit songs (since Sony controls that music catalogue). Thanks to teenage girls seeing the romantic pic, it started its 5th week in release squeezing out another $4 million from just 954 venues for a new cume of $12.9 mil. Resident Evil 3 from Sony / Screen Gems snagged the 9th spot starting its 4th week in release. With a new cume of $48 mil, the sci-fi pic scraped together $2.6 million from 2,249 dates. Fox/Walden’s underperforming kiddie fantasy holdover The Seeker climbed up to No. 10 after Saturday matinees to take in $2.1 million from 3,173 theaters for a new cume of only $7.1 million.

Among newscomers, Yari Film Group’s The Final Season made $665K from 1,011 runs, Sony Picture Classics’ Sleuth took in $50K from 9 dates, and MGM’s Lars And The Real Girl ended the weekend with $85K in 7 theaters in 7 venues.