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SUNDAY AM: After last weekend’s disastrous box office (the lowest in 5 years), Hollywood was dreading this weather-impacted weekend. But its $105 milion total is +34% ahead of last year’s $78 million, so the studios breathed a sight of relief. It was a crowded cineplex with four major wide releases — and not one of them a four-quadrant film. Focus Features’ political comedy Burn After Reading finished No 1 for the weekend with $19.4 million, and Lionsgate’s The Family That Preys No. 2 with $18 million. With yet another PG-rated Tyler Perry crossover hit on its hands, the studio understandably made an overall deal with the writer/producer/director/actor recently. Given that Preys was playing in 581 less theaters than Burn yet had a better per screen average ($8,705 vs $7,319), it’s quite a feat that it finished Friday neck and neck with the first post-Oscar Coen Brothers feature starring George Clooney, Brad Pitt, John Malkovich, Frances McDormand and Tilda Swinton who have either won or been nominated for Academy Awards. Then again it was R-rated, and Prey was PG (but starring Kathy Bates who also has an Oscar and Alfre Woodard a nominee). Burn received better reviews than Prey. So it’s a wash.

Overture Films only paid $12 million to acquire North American rights to Righteous Kill, which earned 3rd place and $16.5 million for the weekend. Stars Robert DeNiro and Al Pacino attracted just a one-quadrant older male audience. The problem is that neither actor has starred in a decent drama lately, including this hackneyed script.

Picturehouse’s The Women took the 4th spot with $10 million. Written and directed and produced by Murphy Brown creator Diane English, it’s a low-budget $16.5 million update of the famed Clare Booth Luce play and 1939 George Cukor film. Full disclosure: it’s hard for me to speak objectively about this chick flick because I keep campaigning for more movies about women over 40. Last June, I bitched that it was wrong to let a pic starring a quality cast of Meg Ryan, Annette Bening, Bette Midler, Jada Pinkett-Smith, Candice Bergen, and Debra Messing die a quick death in limited release with a tiny P&A put out by a shuttering studio. Even if rotten, I saw potential for some savvy Sex In The City-exploiting. Warner Bros heard me, took another look, and decided to release The Women wide with a normal marketing budget. And I applaud them for that decision. Of course, it’s disappointing that this frenemy comedy received the worst reviews of all four opening films (although Roger Ebert loved it). But considering its low cost, The Women had a successful debut: it’ll do nearly twice the opening weekend gross of two wildly more expensive pics starring male stars: Kevin Costner’s Swing Vote and Eddie Murphy’s Meet Dave this past summer. As I’ve remarked before, if there’s room in a studio’s slate for Harold & Kumar-type pics aimed at stoners, there’s room for women’s films aimed at mature females, too.

The rest of the Top 10 were holdovers. DreamWorks/Paramount’s Tropic Thunder crossed the $100 million mark on Friday.

1. Burn After Reading (Focus) $6.5M Fri, $8M Sat, $5M Sun (2,651) $19.4M Wkd
2. Tyler Perry (Lionsgate) $6.4M Fri, $7.3M Sat, $4.4M Sun (2,070) $18M Wkd
3. Righteous Kill (Overture) $5.8M Fri, $6.4M, $4.2M Sun (3,152) $16.5M Wkd
4. The Women (PH/WB) $3.7M Fri, $3.9M Sat, $2.3M Sun (2,962) $10M Wkd
5. The House Bunny (Sony) $4.3M Wkd, $42.1M cume
6. Tropic Thunder (DWorks/Par) $4.1M Wkd, $102.9M cume
7. The Dark Knight (WB) $4M Wkd, $517.6M cume
8. Bangkok Dangerous (Lionsgate) $2.4M Wkd, $12.5M cume
9. Traitor (Overture) $2.1M Wkd, $20.7M cume
10. Death Race (Universal) $2M Wkd, $33.1M cume