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Smith, Carrey can't bring heat as storms batter the boxoffice

Winter-socked moviegoers responded positively to Warner Bros.' "Yes Man" during the weekend, powering the Jim Carrey starrer to the top of the domestic boxoffice with an estimated $18.2 million in opening grosses.

Sony's more somber Will Smith starrer "Seven Pounds" bowed in second place with $16 million, and Universal's animated family feature "The Tale of Despereaux" debuted in third with $10.5 million. But all three wide openers unspooled well below expectations as severe weather reined in moviegoing in many parts of the country.

The week-earlier boxoffice kingpin, Fox's remake of sci-fi classic "The Day the Earth Stood Still," dropped a big 67% to $10.2 million in fourth place, shaping a 10-day cume of $48.6 million. Overture's urban-skewing "Nothing Like the Holidays" fell from the top 10 and grossed $1.3 million, a 63% tumble during its sophomore session, for a $5.9 million cume.

Winter's icy grip also put a big chill on industrywide boxoffice as, from Seattle to New York, the northern U.S. was ensnared in a pre-Christmas whirl of snow and ice. The frame's $88 million in collective grosses marked a 45% decline from the corresponding session a year earlier, according to Nielsen data.

Year to date, 2008 grosses are a hair less than those from a similar portion of last year, at $9.13 billion vs. $9.16 billion.

The art house market appeared less unhinged by the weekend's seasonal storms.

Fox Searchlight bowed Mickey Rourke starrer "The Wrestler" in four theaters to register $209,474, or a stunning $52,369 per venue, for a cume of $294,980 since the film unspooled Wednesday.

"It's a knockout at the boxoffice," Searchlight senior vp distribution Sheila DeLoach said.

"Wrestler" expands to 18 U.S. and Canadian locations Thursday, with Alliance handling distribution north of the border.

Elsewhere in the specialty market, Searchlight added 420 playdates, for a total of 589, for its Indian game-show drama "Slumdog Millionaire," which rang up $3.2 million. The eighth-place performance marked a solid $5,348 per engagement and pumped the pic's cume to $12.1 million.

Miramax's drama "Doubt," starring Philip Seymour Hoffman and Meryl Streep, added 24 locations, for a total of 39, and grossed $729,000. That marked an impressive $18,692 per site and a $1.4 million cume for the film, ahead of a looming big expansion.

Focus Features added 28 playdates, for a total of 356, for its Harvey Milk biopic "Milk," grossing $1.6 million. The Sean Penn starrer rang up a sturdy $4,610 per engagement, and the performance raised the film's cume to $10.3 million.

Uni's political drama "Frost/Nixon" held in 39 theaters to register $365,000, or a feisty $9,355 per venue, with a $1.5 million cume. The Weinstein Co.'s Kate Winslet starrer "The Reader" maintained eight locations to gross $100,150, or an encouraging $12,519 per site, with a $356,600 cume.

"Yes Man" audiences were divided evenly between males and females, with 61% of patrons under 25.

"It was a tough weekend, but I'm still happy," Warners distribution president Dan Fellman said. "It was a big win for Jim Carrey."

Moviegoers 25 and older accounted for 64% of the audience for "Pounds," and 55% of the film's patrons were female.

"Everyone suffered big-time from the weather," Sony distribution president Rory Bruer said. "In that sense, it was tough. But audience really liked the movie a lot, so it's going to work out just fine for us."

"Despereaux" attracted predominantly family moviegoers, with nearly half of the film's audience composed of kids 12 or younger and nearly a third of patrons being parents of preteens. Executives expressed satisfaction with the opening in light of the snow and ice that trapped many prospective patrons in their homes.

"It was weather, weather, weather, weather," Uni distribution president Nikki Rocco said. "Everything was havoc, market by market. But I'm thrilled that with all that, we did what we did, and the number will only get better over the holidays."

London-based Framestore performed animation duties on "Despereaux," a $60 million production. Matthew Broderick and Dustin Hoffman are the film's lead voice actors.

It will bear watching how the weekend's top finishers hold up during their second frames, though "Despereaux" skews so young it likely will stand out from the thickening boxoffice pack. A whopping five wide openers are set to hit multiplexes Thursday, hoping Christmas Day moviegoing will pad weekend bows.

Those five are Disney's Adam Sandler starrer "Bedtime Stories," Fox's romantic comedy "Marley & Me," Lionsgate's action-fantasy "The Spirit," MGM's Tom Cruise-toplined "Valkyrie" and Paramount's literary adaptation "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button." Add in the platforming art films that are gaining traction with the advent of kudos season, and it will make for a most competitive conclusion to the boxoffice year.

Executives expressed optimism that moviegoers will tap into pent-up interest after the weather-dampened weekend.

"The market is going to expand, and everybody is going to have a piece of the action," Fellman said. "I don't care how many films are going to open on Christmas; we're all going to have a huge Friday the day after Christmas." (partialdiff)
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