'Madea' locks up top boxoffice spot

$41.1 mil opening is biggest ever for Lionsgate, Perry

As prestige pics and statuettes hogged the weekend limelight, Tyler Perry's urban comedy "Madea Goes to Jail" dominated the domestic boxoffice with an estimated $41.1 million opening that represented Lionsgate's biggest ever.

A "Friday the 13th" remake -- which Warner Bros. bowed so well a week earlier -- absorbed an enormous 81% drop from its first Friday-Sunday grosses to register $7.8 million in sixth place over the latest session. Paramount is handling international distribution on the New Line-produced horror pic, which has rung up $55 million over its first 10 days.

Sony Screen Gems' youth comedy "Fired Up" fetched just $6 million in ninth place in the session's only other wide opening. Yet aside from such occasional misfires with individual releases, it seems the industry boxoffice can do no wrong right now.

Collectively, the weekend's $142 million represented a 29% uptick from the same frame a year earlier, according to Nielsen EDI. That made for six of seven up weekends so far this year.

Year to date, 2009 is pacing ahead of last year by just 1% -- at $1.45 billion -- in a deceptively modest increase shaped by seasonal fluctuations in the boxoffice year.

Elsewhere this weekend, Fox's Liam Neeson starrer "Taken" refuses to shrink from the upper rankings. The action-thriller grabbed second place over its fourth weekend with $11.4 million and a $95.2 million cume.

Disney's PG-13 comedy "Confessions of a Shopaholic" fell 53% in its second weekend to $7 million in seventh place, with a $27.7 million cume. Sony's political thriller "The International" tumbled 52% in its sophomore session to $4.5 million in 10th place, with a $17 million cume.

Fox Searchlight's Indian drama "Slumdog Millionaire" was again tops among films nominated in the Academy Awards best-pic category, improving 11% over its Friday-Sunday tally of a week earlier. Adding 610 theaters this session for a total 2,244 over its 15th week, "Slumdog" rung up $8.1 million to finish fifth on the frame and boost cume to $98 million.

The Weinstein Co. added 238 playdates for a total of 962 for Kate Winslet starrer "The Reader" and grossed $2.8 million, bringing its 11-week cume to $23.2 million.

Among notable exclusive runs, IFC Films added one location for a total of six in New York and Los Angeles for its Italian-language mob film "Gomorrah" and grossed $66,756, or a solid $11,126 per site. "Gomorrah's" cume climbed to $211,046.

The outsized bow by "Madea Goes to Jail" -- considerably better than expected -- surpassed the $33.6 million bow by Lionsgate's "Saw III" in October 2006. It also topped Perry's previous opening high of $30 million by 2006's "Madea’s Family Reunion."

The multihyphenate's releases tend to do better when they feature the maternal character of Madea -- and apparently those with her name in the title perform the best.

As usual, the PG-13 pic drew audiences comprised largely of urban demos, with 72% of patrons black and 13% Hispanic. About 71% of its support came from females, and 65% of the pic's patrons were age 25 and older.
"This monster opening demonstrates that Tyler remains one of the biggest stars in Hollywood," Lionsgate distribution president Steve Rothenberg said.

"Fired Up" skewed 61% female, with 61% of patrons under 18 years old.
Sony execs emphasized that the pic’s production costs were modest, at less than $20 million.

"We'll be OK," Sony distribution president Rory Bruer said.

Looking ahead, two films are set for wide release next weekend: Disney's music-filled "Jonas Brothers: The 3-D Concert" and Fox's martial-arts actioner "Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li."