Beasties crash Christmas bash

'AVP' sequel bucks classy b.o. fare

Those darn aliens and predators upset the boxoffice hierarchy established during the weekend before Christmas.

Bowing on Christmas Day, Fox's "Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem," the second installment of the intergalactic smackdown, took the third-place slot with a single-day gross of $9.5 million.

But while "AVP" flaunted its status as R-rated holiday counterprogramming with the ad line "No Peace on Earth," the day's other new arrivals struck a more hopeful, seasonal note.

The inspirational period drama "The Great Debaters," which MGM is releasing for the Weinstein Co., debuted in sixth place with $3.6 million but enjoyed a per-theater average that ranked just below the top wide releases.

The Scottish-accented fantasy "The Water Horse: Legend of the Deep," a Sony release, squeezed into ninth place with $2.4 million.

In exclusive release, Warner Bros.' "The Bucket List," starring warhorses Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman, chalked up $161,840 in just 16 theaters for a per-screen average of $10,115, while Sony Classics' release of the animated Iranian history lesson "Persepolis" captured $37,118 on seven screens for a per-screen average of $5,303.

After dipping on Monday as many theaters closed early for Christmas Eve, the overall boxoffice rebounded on Christmas Day. And with so many businesses making do with skeletal staffs through year's end, distributors looked forward to weekend-like business throughout the rest of the week.

Disney's sequel "National Treasure: Book of Secrets," which bowed Friday, easily held on to the top spot for Christmas Day, luring in an additional $13.7 million as it hit the $65 million mark.

In just 12 days of release, Warners' apocalyptic Will Smith starrer "I Am Legend" crossed the $150 million line as it attracted an additional $9.8 million Tuesday, remaining in second place.

Fox placed its self-created roadblock in the third and fourth positions as "AVP" knocked "Alvin and the Chipmunks," which held the third spot for the bulk of the holiday weekend, down to fourth place for the day.

"'Alien' was sensational," said Bert Livingston, Fox senior vp distribution. Although its R rating meant that the movie didn't venture into some small towns, it nevertheless commanded a $3,713 per-theater average in the 2,563 theaters where it set up shop.

The original "AVP," which brought together the voracious monsters from the studio's "Alien" and "Predator" franchises, bowed to an opening weekend of $38.3 million in a wider release of 3,395 theaters in August 2004 on its way to an eventual $80.3 million domestic gross. The new film, directed by the brother team of Colin Strause and Greg Strause, played two midnight shows on Christmas Eve at the Mann-operated Grauman's Chinese Theatre in Hollywood and Regal's Union Square Stadium 14 in New York before making its bid for young males, eager to escape family gatherings, on Christmas Day.

"Alvin," on the other hand, because it appealed to a much younger audience, didn't see business start to pick up until Tuesday afternoon, once all the presents were opened. Still, "Alvin" managed to score an additional $6 million for the day as it closes in on the $100 million mark this week.

The PG-13 "Debaters," positioning itself for an Oscar run, squeezed in between two other awards hopefuls — Universal's "Charlie Wilson's War," which shifted into fifth place Tuesday with $4.3 million, and DreamWorks/Paramount's "Sweeney Todd," which ranked seventh with $3.2 million.

Although it bowed on a relatively modest 1,164 theaters, "Debaters," directed by Denzel Washington, who also stars in the film about the Wiley College debate team, turned up $3.6 million for a promising per-theater average of $3,092.

"In the South, where the story is set, it played the best," said Clark Woods, MGM president of domestic theatrical distribution. "We're off and running."

With a CinemaScore of an A+ and 93% of moviegoers rating it excellent or very good, according to its distributors, the film, which boasts Oprah Winfrey as one of its producers, is expected to quickly add theaters as it builds toward the Martin Luther King holiday weekend, which, in boxoffice terms, starts on Jan. 18.

"The best news is that the movie is crossing over; it's playing everywhere from urban markets to the suburbs," said Harvey Weinstein, co-head of the Weinstein Co. "The only group that isn't coming right away are young males, but they always come last to our films.

"I think we'll have great word-of-mouth," he added. "People are buzzing about the film. Although we're arriving late, I think we have a shot at (a) best picture (Oscar nomination) because it's an optimistic, American, can-do movie."

While "Alvin" was clearly the first choice for the day among family audiences, "Water Horse," produced by Walden Media, Revolution and Beacon Pictures, established a foothold with its one-day gross of $2.4 million. Jay Russell directed the PG film, which offers a fresh take on the mythology of the Loch Ness monster.

Fox Searchlight's "Juno," in eighth place with $2.8 million, and Warners' "P.S. I Love You," in the 10th spot with $2.1 million, rounded out the top 10.