'Cloverfield' bow is big

MLK-record $41 mil in three days

Paramount's modestly budgeted and stealthily marketed monster film "Cloverfield" opened monstrously indeed, with an estimated $41 million over its first three days, blowing away the weekend record for the long Martin Luther King holiday frame.

Similarly cashing in on what's become a key winter boxoffice session for the industry, Fox's wedding-themed romantic comedy "27 Dresses" put $22.4 million into its gift purse, bowing in second place.

The 2001 military action film "Black Hawk Down" had marked the previous best MLK weekend. It posted a three-day gross of $28.6 million, which it stretched to $33 million through that year's Monday holiday.

Paramount executives expect "Cloverfield" to fall just short of $50 million through Monday.

Also during the weekend, Overture debuted the first of its slate of modestly budgeted films, bowing the female-ensemble comedy "Mad Money" about as expected with $7.7 million in seventh place.

Elsewhere, Warner Bros.' Jack Nicholson-Morgan Freeman starrer "The Bucket List" dropped a tiny 22% from the previous weekend -- its first in wide release -- to gross $15.2 million in third place, shaping a $42.7 million cume.

Fox Searchlight's platforming comedy "Juno" added 86 engagements for a total of 2,534 and grossed $10.3 million in fourth place, good for an $85.4 million cume.

Sony/Screen Gems' Ice Cube starrer "First Sunday" dropped 56% in its second session to gross $7.8 million in sixth place, toting a $28.5 million cume. Universal's animated "The Pirates Who Don't Do Anything: A VeggieTales Movie" tumbled from the top 10 despite a modest 35% decline from the previous weekend to $2.8 million, with a $7.7 million cume.

In a limited bow, the Weinstein Co. unspooled Wood Allen's latest drama, "Cassandra's Dream," in 107 theaters. Starring Colin Farrell and Ewan McGregor, the film grossed $400,000, or an acceptable $3,740 per venue.

Elsewhere in the specialty market, Focus' Keira Knightley-James McAvoy starrer "Atonement" added 341 theaters for a total of 1,291 and grossed $4.8 million to finish 10th overall. With a sturdy $3,687 per venue, the latest grosses brought the cume for the Working Title-produced period drama to $31.9 million.

"Atonement" won the recent best drama award at the Golden Globes, and Focus distribution president Jack Foley said "the Globes definitely helped" the weekend grosses. That's despite the scaled-back Globes telecast this year that had some wondering whether there would be the usual bounce for the platforming "Atonement," he said.

Paramount Vantage's Daniel Day-Lewis starrer "There Will Be Blood," a co-production with Miramax, expanded by 160 engagements for a total of 389 and grossed $3.1 million. The performance represented an impressive $8,032 per playdate with an $8.2 million cume.

DreamWorks/Paramount's "Sweeney Todd" added 184 runs for a total of 1,507 and grossed $2.6 million, or just $1,740 per site, with a $48 million cume.

The Miramax-distributed Coen brothers thriller "No Country for Old Men" -- another Par Vantage co-production -- added 161 playdates for a total of 818 and grossed $1.4 million, good for $1,652 per engagement and a $48.7 million cume.

Fox Searchlight's dark comedy "The Savages" added 82 theaters for a total of 175 and grossed $450,000, or $2,571 per venue, with a $3.6 million cume.

The Miramax-released drama "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly" added 32 locations for a total of 107 and grossed $396,000, or an acceptable $3,701 per site, with a $2.5 million cume.

Sony Pictures Classics' Iranian-themed animated feature "Persepolis" added 18 playdates for a total of 30 to gross $281,365, or a nifty $9,379 per engagement, with a cume of $909,603.

Also, Rialto opened its rerelease of 1961's "Last Year at Marienbad" with an exclusive at New York's Film Forum, grossing $15,500 ahead of the Feb. 1 addition of Los Angeles' Nuart.

A pair of ThinkFilm documentaries posted solid grosses during the weekend.

"Taxi to the Dark Side" bowed in single theaters in New York and Los Angeles, ringing up $12,450, or $6,225 per venue. And the distributor's "Nanking" added one location for a total of four in grossing $19,620, or $4,905 per site, with a cume of $76,179.

Paramount vice chairman Rob Moore said the Internet-based marketing campaign for "Cloverfield," which featured a widely circulated teaser trailer of a headless Statue of Liberty, worked like a charm.

"A lot of (prerelease buzz) was also spread through word-of-mouth," Moore said. "That's what was so hard to quantify."

Going into the weekend, tracking firms' predictions for "Cloverfield" covered a wide range, with $30 million about the average forecast for its three-day performance.

"Cloverfield" was directed by Matt Reeves ("The Pallbearer") and produced by J.J. Abrams and Bryan Burk.

"Dresses," starring Katherine Heigl and James Marsden, aimed squarely at the female moviegoer in contrast with the core male support for "Cloverfield."

Fox senior vp distribution Chris Aronson said "Dresses" drew audiences evenly split between patrons under 25 and older. But the Spyglass Entertainment co-production skewed a whopping 75% female.

"This weekend is like summer weekend, where you can counterprogram with two different sorts of picture and have them both succeed," Aronson said.

Helmed by Callie Khouri, who penned "Thelma and Louise," and featuring an ensemble cast led by Diane Keaton and Queen Latifah, "Mad Money" also skewed heavily female. Audiences were 60% female, with 50% of patrons over 30.

"You always want more money, but we feel pretty good," Overture marketing and distribution president Peter Adee said. "We opened against some pretty tough competition and did a decent number."

Despite being hampered a bit when Fox moved its similarly skewing "Dresses" back one frame to the MLK weekend, "Money" was acquired by Overture for a modest $6 million, so profitability appears well within sight.

The weekend appeared to be a robust one for the collective boxoffice, but three-day industry comparisons with 2007's pre-MLK session were not immediately available. Nielsen EDI is set to release four-day industrywide estimates and year-over-year comparisons Monday.

Meanwhile, the frame's top 10 marked a big 54% improvement over last weekend with $129.3 million in collective grosses, according to Nielsen.

Looking to this weekend, the holdovers will be joined by four wide openers. Lionsgate debuts "Rambo," the latest in the Sylvester Stallone franchise; Fox unspools "Meet the Spartans," a spoof of last year's "300"; Paramount Vantage bows the urban step-dancing film "How She Move"; and Sony sends out the serial-killer thriller "Untraceable."