Artifacts figure: $42 mil

'Museum' tops holiday frame; 'Dreamgirls' hot

20th Century Fox's "Night at the Museum" was the star exhibit during the four-day holiday weekend that spanned Friday through Christmas Day, winning the frame at the domestic boxoffice with $42.2 million. But Paramount Pictures' release of DreamWorks' "Dreamgirls" also was a star performer, with an astounding one-day gross of $8.7 million Monday as it entered its first day of wider release in 852 theaters.

Among the crowded field of year-end offerings, MGM's "Rocky Balboa," which opened Dec. 20, continued its successful underdog saga, pulling in a surprisingly young audience for a third-place finish with $17 million. And Universal Pictures' spy drama "The Good Shepherd" enjoyed a solid opening, capturing fourth place with an estimated $14.1 million for the four-day period.

Another new wide release, Warner Bros. Pictures' "We Are Marshall," wasn't as successful. The inspirational PG sports story starring Matthew McConaughey grossed an estimated $8.6 million for the frame.

Meanwhile, holdovers from the previous weekend held on well. Sony Pictures' "The Pursuit of Happyness" finished in second place, generating an estimated $23.1 million to cross the $60 million mark in its sophomore frame. And despite a less-than-stellar debut, Paramount's "Charlotte's Web" held strong in its second weekend, picking up an additional $9.6 million for a cume of $28.4 million, good for the fifth spot overall.

Fox's "Eragon" suffered the steepest fall. Although the film generated an additional $9.3 million to finish No. 6 for the four days, its three-day Friday-Sunday gross of $7.2 million represented a 70% drop from the previous weekend. The dragon fantasy has generated close to $40 million after two weekends.

The only other wide release to hit theaters during the weekend was MGM's bow of the Weinstein Co.'s "Black Christmas." The R-rated horror film starring Michelle Trachtenberg, which bowed on Christmas Day, grossed $3.3 million for the day in 1,278 theaters, good for a $2,588 per-theater average.

For the three-day portion of the weekend, the boxoffice top 12 was up an estimated 8% compared with last year's frame. For the four days, however, the weekend's totals were off close to 2%. While Christmas Eve, which fell on a Sunday, was its typical no-show this year, Christmas Day also got off to a slow start, not catching fire with audiences until the early-evening shows.

"Museum," starring Ben Stiller, was the general-audience picture of the weekend. From director Shawn Levy, the PG film set at New York's Museum of Natural History scored with both families and adults without children.

"It was the all-purpose movie that resonated with all types of audiences," Fox president of distribution Bruce Snyder said. "Museum" scored an A- rating from CinemaScore, with audiences close to evenly split between men and women. According to the exit pollster, the film was predominantly attended by the over-25 crowd. Its Imax runs contributed positively to the weekend's gross, with the 2-D display earning $2.3 million from 72 giant-screen theaters.

"Rocky," the sixth installment of the boxing franchise starring sexagenarian Sylvester Stallone, was far from a sure thing in the eyes of most industry observers. But audiences have welcomed back the former champ since its midweek opening. Surprisingly, according to MGM, 70% of those moviegoers were younger than 34. With a cume of $26.7 million, the PG film is well on its way to earning back its negative cost of $24 million, and MGM is hopeful that in the coming weeks the average age of moviegoers checking out the movie will trend upward as old-time "Rocky" fans come out for the picture.

"Our hope is that what we have here is a new generation of 'Rocky' fans," MGM president of distribution Clark Woods said. "These are individuals who didn't see the originals in the movie theater. We're hoping they go home and tell their fathers, the original 'Rocky' fans, that they really liked the movie, and they come out in the following weeks." The film earned a B+ according to CinemaScore.

Although "Dreamgirls" bowed Dec. 15 to sold-out shows in three theaters, its Monday number represented the third-best Christmas Day opener of all time, behind only "Ali" (2001) and "Catch Me If You Can" (2002). The Bill Condon-directed film featuring Jamie Foxx, Beyonce Knowles and Eddie Murphy also generated the best single day ever for a musical. Adding in its sold-out roadshow from the previous weekend, the PG-13 film has earned $9.6 million.

With a per-theater figure of $10,200 on Christmas Day, "Dreamgirls" is poised to dominate throughout the end of the year and into January. Paramount intends to expand the film to about 2,000 theaters Jan. 12 for the Martin Luther King Day holiday.

"The exits were fantastic from a quantitative standpoint, and on an anecdotal basis, we're hearing about applause inside the movie theaters," said Rob Moore, Paramount's president of worldwide marketing and distribution. "It's playing amazingly well."

Meanwhile, Universal bowed "Shepherd" in 2,215 theaters. The R-rated, cerebral spy drama from director Robert De Niro picked up an estimated $14.1 million for the four-day frame. With a cast featuring Matt Damon, Angelina Jolie, Alec Baldwin and others, the film opened to mixed reviews and a B- grade from CinemaScore. Still, the studio is happy with its opening, especially since it was not a family-friendly film that bowed during the ultimate family-friendly holiday.

Warners' "Marshall," on the other hand, generated more positive exit polls, with CinemaScore giving it an A-. Its studio is hopeful that the PG film, directed by McG and revolving around the efforts to rebuild the Marshall College football program after a devastating 1970 plane crash, can pick up some yardage during subsequent frames.

Said Jeff Goldstein, Warners' executive vp and general sales manager of domestic distribution: "People who see this movie really like it and recommend it. I think we generated the highest percentage increase from Christmas Eve to Christmas Day. It's just that the market is really crowded, and we recognized that we had to get past Christmas Day to see the true playability of the film."

In limited release, Sony Pictures Classics unveiled "Curse of the Golden Flower," directed by Zhang Yimou and starring Chow Yun-Fat and Gong Li, in 60 theaters. The sumptuous Chinese-language film grossed $712,760 for a per-screen average of $11,879.

Universal bowed "Children of Men" in 16 theaters. The Alfonso Cuaron-directed film grossed $180,000 for a per-theater average of $11,250. The film, starring Clive Owen and Julianne Moore, was almost universally well reviewed and will expand Friday.

Warners bowed "Letters From Iwo Jima," the Clint Eastwood-directed companion piece to his "Flags of Our Fathers," in five theaters. The R-rated Japanese-language film depicting Japan's side of the Battle of Iwo Jima also scored well with critics. It opened to $122,605 for a per-screen average of $24,521.

Warner Independent Pictures opened the Ed Norton starrer "The Painted Veil" in four theaters. Directed by John Curran, "Veil" opened strong to an estimated $71,813 for the four-day frame. The PG-13 film boasted a per-screen of $17,953.
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