NASCAR MOVIE NATION: Talladega Nights' $47 Mil Victory Lap for No. 1; Opening Is Will Ferrell's Biggest Ever

SUNDAY/SATURDAY/FRIDAY: I’m told Sony’s good-natured NASCAR spoof, Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby First, victory lapped every movie at the box office for No. 1 passing $18 million Friday and $16 million Saturday for a fast-paced $47 million weekend. This is comic Will Ferrell’s biggest opening ever, exceeding his previous best Elf ($31 mil), and the 2nd biggest original comedy opening of all time behind Bruce Almighty. After decades of Hollywood looking down its collective nose at this 75-million-strong sporting phenomenon, Sony now becomes the second studio this summer to successfully tap into the NASCAR craze across America: Disney’s Cars was first (with $236 mil to date in grosses). This is Sony’s 8th Number One opening this year, and Talladega Nights will be the 7th best opening of the year among all product (behind sequels of Pirates, X Men, Ice Age, and Superman Returns and behind originals Cars and Da Vinci Code). Tracking on the generally well-reviewed pic showed a solid opening initially in the $30s (as in millions), so it did better-than-expected this weekend. (Weekend figures include Sunday estimates)

Other movies opening this weekend were Paramount’s kiddie fare Barnyard which was No. 2 with $5.4 mil on Friday and $5.5 on Saturday to finish the weekend with at least $15 mil. And Lionsgate’s The Descent (whose disgusting marketing campaign boasted it had more blood and gore than its previous horror film Saw) could only muster $8.5 mil for 5th place. Meanwhile, Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean 2: Dead Man’s Chest finished No. 3 with $3.2 mil on Friday and $4.4 mil on Saturday for a $378 mil cume — and gets closer by the minute to $400 mil. The surprise loser was last week’s No. 1 movie, Miami Vice from Universal, which lost 66% of its box office and earned a depressing $3.1 mil Friday and $3.8 on Saturday for only a $48 mil to-date total.

First, Talladega Nights was expected to open in the $30s (as in millions). Then the high $30s. But no one expected it to speed into the $40s and possibly even the high $40s. Sony’s slick marketing campaign had Talladega Nights front and center all over television, including The Food Network with its star chef, NASCAR fanatic Mario Batali. (At California Speedway in Fontana, celebrity chef and racing follower Wolfgang Puck will open a new cafe in time for NASCAR’s Sony HD 500 on September 3rd.) Because the movie pokes gentle fun at every stereotype associated with NASCAR, there was a risk that Talladega Nights might offend the racing fans. But that didn’t happen, so look for more NASCAR-themed movies in the very near future as Hollywood finally gets hip to the racing craze. Already it’s becoming a fixture in pics: NASCAR is the only sports league to have an office in Hollywood, and, increasingly, NASCAR drivers Travis Kvapil, Jamie McMurray, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Carl Edwards, Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson are being offered cameos and small parts in films and TV productions. With the national and international news so grim, U.S. moviegoers again turned out for funny films. Sony is going to collaborate again with the Talladega Nights team: Will Ferrell, John C. Reilly, Adam McKay and Judd Apatow have all committed to a new film Step Brothers.

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