A happy holiday in H'wood

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Sony's PG-rated comedy "Paul Blart: Mall Cop" arrested an estimated $39 million during a record-setting Martin Luther King Jr. Day weekend to bow stylishly atop a gold-plated domestic boxoffice.

Other films ringing up extravagant sums in the four-day frame included Clint Eastwood's "Gran Torino," which Warner Bros. parked in second place with $26.2 million over its sophomore session in wide release. "Torino" — which dropped just 26% from the previous Friday-Sunday in registering its four-day tally — boasts a $77.2 million cume after six weeks of limited and wide distribution.

Lionsgate's 3-D horror film "My Bloody Valentine" rung up a bloody decent $24.2 million to open in third place, while Fox Searchlight's hip-hop biopic "Notorious" — based on the life and death of the rapper known as Notorious B.I.G. — notarized $24 million to bow fourth through Monday. The family comedy "Hotel for Dogs" from DreamWorks and Paramount booked fifth place with a $22.5 million debut.

Industrywide, the weekend's $233 million in collective grosses outpaced by 25% the holiday frame's previous high of $187 million, set last year, Nielsen said.

Never before have four wide releases opened over any winter weekend, so the frame's unpredecented heft no doubt helped shape the MLK record. Year-to-date, 2009 is still off 20%, at $462.6 million.

The weekend yielded varied results for three pics marking sophomore sessions.

Fox's romantic comedy "Bride Wars" took a small three-day dip of 44% to fetch $14 million over four days, grabbing sixth place and shaping a $39.9 million cume.

Horror pic "The Unborn," from Universal and Rogue, fell 53%, good for $11 million in seventh place and a $34.2 million cume. And Sony's faith-based drama "Not Easily Broken" slid a big 63%, tumbling from the top rankings with a $2.3 million session and $8.4 million cume.

Several platforming films will be hoping for helpful news Thursday, when the Academy unveils its Oscar nominations. As a result, some prestige films delayed marking big expansions in the hopes of doing so next session with help from award-noms publicity.

By contrast, Paramount Vantage widened its Holocaust drama "Defiance" to 1,789 theaters from a previous two and grossed $10.7 million. That was good for eighth place in the long session and boosted its cume to $11 million.

Searchlight's much-buzzed-about "Slumdog Millionaire" shed 19 playdates during the weekend for a total of 582 but still grossed $7.2 million, or an impressive $12,285 per engagement.

In fact, an apparent bounce from publicity over its recent awards success at the Golden Globes powered "Slumdog" to a 54% uptick this Friday-Sunday compared to last weekend. The Danny Boyle-helmed drama is set to expand north of 1,200 locations this weekend and already totes a $44 million cume after nine weeks in mostly limited release.

The literary adaptation "Revolutionary Road," from DreamWorks and Paramount, added 36 locations for a total of 171. The Leonardo DiCaprio-Kate Winslet starrer grossed $2.2 million, or $12,614 per site, with a $6.1 million cume. "Road" will wind north of 800 sites starting Friday.

Searchlight expanded Mickey Rourke starrer "The Wrestler" by 84 theaters for a total of 144 and grossed $2.1 million, or a stirring $14,410 per venue, with a $5.4 million cume.

Sony Pictures Classics' animated feature "Waltz With Bashir" added one playdate for a total of nine and grossed $101,615, representing $11,291 per engagement and a cume of $531,208.

Overture expanded its romantic comedy "Last Chance Harvey" from 16 theaters to 1,054 in grossing $5.1 million, or $4,858 per venue. "Harvey's" cume climbed to $5.7 million.

In "Blart," Kevin James ("I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry") brings an energetic physical comedy to his portrayal of a hapless security guard-turned-hero. First-frame audiences were evenly split between males and females, with 56% of patrons under age 25.

"It was a movie for everyone," Sony distribution president Rory Bruer said.

James' topline appeal also proved broad, Bruer said, and his tireless promos helped pump prerelease interest.

The "Blart" opening notched a personal best for director Steve Carr, surpassing his $27.6 million debut with 2003's "Daddy Day Care." Sony said production costs on his latest film totaled just $26 million.

"Valentine" audiences skewed a bit female, with well more than two-thirds of patrons under age 25. The R-rated pic boasted a mix of 1,033 3-D auditoriums and 1,501 conventional venues, with the former contributing a whopping $19.7 million. That meant 81% of the weekend gross came from just 41% of the film's engagements.

"We're really happy," Lionsgate distribution president Steve Rothenberg said.

Also rated R, "Notorious" audiences were 51% male but skewed much older than "Valentine," with 60% of patrons 25 and older. As with most Searchlight wide releases, execs from Fox assisted on distribution.

"It has obviously exceeded all of our expectations," Fox senior vp distribution Chris Aronson said.

The film played well in urban and non-urban venues, Aronson said.

Rated PG, "Hotel" targeted family audiences.

"The number was outstanding," Par executive vp distribution Don Harris said of the bow.

With few pure family films in the marketplace, "Hotel" should play well over the next couple of sessions, Harris added.

Two movies debut wide Friday: Warners unspools the fantasy "Inkheart," starring Brendan Fraser and Paul Bettany, and Sony sends out the action sequel "Underworld: Rise of the Lycans" with Rhona Mitra and Michael Sheen.
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