'Epic,' 'Smokin' Aces' have hot hands at b.o.

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The spoof genre continues to thrive. The 20th Century Fox film "Epic Movie" topped the charts at the North American boxoffice this a weekend, taking in an estimated $19.2 million.

 Universal Pictures' actioner "Smokin' Aces" claimed second place with an estimated $14.3 million. And the Oscar-nominated films received a healthy bump in the marketplace. Despite all the activity, though, the business generated by the top 12 films was still down 11% from the comparable weekend in 2006.

Rounding out the other new release of the weekend, Sony Pictures' romantic comedy "Catch and Release" earned a No. 4 spot, bowing to an estimated $8 million as it lured in primarily females. But MGM's horror romance "Blood and Chocolate" took a dive, finishing in 15th place with just $2.1 million.

Fox's "Night at the Museum" continued to perform. The PG-rated family comedy grossed an additional $9.5 million for the No. 3 spot. The Ben Stiller-starrer has grossed $216.7 million in its six weekends of release.

Sony Pictures' holdovers "Stomp the Yard," and "Pursuit of Happiness" also continue to maintain a strong presence in the marketplace. In fifth place, "Stomp" grossed an additional $7.8 million, dropping a scant 37%, to put its cume in the $50 million range. In seventh place, "Pursuit" earned an additional $5 million. Buoyed by an Oscar nomination for star Will Smith, the drama fell only 21% to put its total estimated gross at $152.9 million.

Other Oscar-nominated films also took advantage of their turn in the awards limelight. Despite being left out of the best picture and best director categories for the Academy Award nominations, Paramount Pictures' "Dreamgirls," from Dreamworks, grossed an additional $6.6 million for a sixth place on the charts. The musical, which did earn eight nominations, added 571 theaters to its playdates, but still fell 17% from last weekend's total. The Beyonce Knowles-starrer has generated an estimated $86.7 million to date.

Picturehouse's "Pan's Labyrinth," which earned six nominations, matched the $4.5 million it took in last weekend with the help of an additional 214 theaters. The Guillermo del Toro-directed film continues to maintain a strong per-theater average. This weekend's number amounted to $5,474 on 823 screens, putting its total cume at an estimated $16.3 million.

Miramax Films added 244 runs to its seemingly evergreen film "The Queen," which walked away Tuesday with a coveted best picture nomination. Grossing an estimated $4 million in 1,830 theaters, the film, which ranked ninth, has generated more than $41 million since it bowed 18 weeks ago.

Warner Bros. Pictures' two best picture nominees fared decently. The studio rereleased "The Departed" in 1,453 locations, adding more than 1,300 playdates. The film grossed $3 million for a per-theater average of $2,100. The Martin Scorsese-directed film has now grossed an estimated $124.9 million. Warners hopes to keep the film in theaters until the Oscar ceremonies Feb. 25.

 Clint Eastwood's "Letters from Iwo Jima" received a theater boost of 55, grossing an estimated $1.7 million in 415 theaters. The R-rated war drama was up 26% with a per-theater average of $4,120. The film's cume now stands at $4.9 million. Next weekend, Warners intends to add about 200 theaters to its run.

Fox Searchlight, with four films nominated for various Academy Awards, expanded two films, "Last King of Scotland" and "Notes on a Scandal." With an Oscar nom for Forest Whitaker's performance as Idi Amin, Searchlight added six runs to its release of the underperforming "King." The film grossed an estimated $1.65 million in 501 locations, up 2% from last weekend. With a per-screen average of $3,293, the film has now earned $7.7 million. "Notes" expanded to 640 theaters, grossing $2.6 million for a per-screen of $3,978. The Judi Dench, Cate Blanchett-starrer has now earned $9 million in its limited release.

Paramount Vantage added about 200 runs to its Oscar-nominated film "Babel." In 1,090 theaters, the R-rated drama grossed $2.6 million for a per-theater of $2,368. Up 25% from last weekend, the film with seven Academy Award nominations has now grossed $27 million in the marketplace.

Sony Pictures Classics added 542 screens to its run of Pedro Almodovar's "Volver." The film, which received a best actress nomination for Penelope Cruz, is now on 689 screens, the most ever for an Almodovar film. The Spanish-language drama earned $1.1 million for an average of $1,671 and a total cume of $8.9 million.

New Line Cinema's "Little Children" earned an additional $200,000. The R-rated drama garnered a best actress nomination for Kate Winslet. The film's total cume now stands at $4 million.

In limited release, Samuel Goldwyn Films/Destination bowed the revenge drama "Seraphim Falls" in nine markets this weekend. The western thriller starring Pierce Brosnan and Liam Neesom opened on 52 screens to $162,032 for a per-screen average of $3,116. The film will expand into 25 more markets over the next three weekends.

"Epic Movie" from writers/directors Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer, the duo behind last year's "Date Movie," did surprisingly well. The PG-13 rated film outgrossed "Date Movie's" three-day take on its opening weekend, which fell on a holiday weekend. From Regency Enterprises, the film also showed a 13% bump from Friday to Saturday, indicating that the teenage crowd was coming back for more. "Our marketing department did a great job. We got our audience," said Bert Livingston, general sales manager for Fox. "It's a great number."

Relativity Media opened two films this weekend. The financier co-financed both Universal's "Smokin' Aces" from director Joe Carnahan and Sony's "Catch and Release."

"Smokin Aces," a Working Title production, featured an ensemble cast topped by Jeremy Piven, Ray Liotta, Ben Affleck and Andy Garcia, among others. Carnahan's follow-up to the well-received "Narc," the film did its job by luring in primarily young males. Its take from Friday to Saturday night rose 8%, which is always a positive sign of the film's playability.

"We did a little bit better then we expected and it's a moneymaker for the studio. When we're profitable, it puts a smile on everybody's face," said Nikki Rocco, Universal president of domestic distribution.

While "Catch and Release" bowed to the single digits, Sony went into the weekend with that number in mind. The film cost $25 million to make, and while the primary audience was female, the film did crossover a bit to the dating crowd. "We're pleased with the opening," said Rory Bruer, Sony president of domestic distribution. "You certainly can not have a more charming star then Jennifer Garner. She is certainly a big asset."

While the openers bowed in the range most in the industry expected, it wasn't nearly enough to beat last year at this time when Fox bowed "Big Momma's House 2" to $27 million. That, coupled with the No. 2 opener "Nanny McPhee" from Universal Pictures at $14.5 million, was too much to overcome regardless of the bump the Oscar nominated films received this frame. The top 12 films stand at an estimated $88.9 million compared with $100.1 million for the same period last year.

In limited release, Samuel Goldwyn Films/Destination bowed the revenge drama "Seraphim Falls" in nine markets this weekend. The western thriller starring Pierce Brosnan and Liam Neesom opened on 52 screens to $162,032 for a per-screen average of $3,116. The film will expand into 25 more markets over the next three weekends.

For the full week that ended Thursday, total boxoffice amounted to $132.4 million, down more than 15% from the comparable week in 2006, which took in $157.1 million.

For the year to date, total boxoffice stands at $486.1 million, down 4% from 2006's $507.9 million. Admissions have fallen 8% from the 2006 level.
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