'Mall Cop' holds as Oscar nominees bounce


Results at the domestic boxoffice offered split-frame viewing during the weekend, with commerce and art showing up in equal evidence.

Sony's comedy "Paul Blart: Mall Cop" repeated at No. 1 with an estimated $21.5 million, while Sony Screen Gems' threequel "Underworld: Rise of the Lycans" and Warner Bros.' fantasy "Inkheart" mounted second- and seventh-place bows of $20.7 million and $7.7 million, respectively. But much of the focus was on several Oscar-nominated films, including the five best picture candidates.

Fox Searchlight broadened Danny Boyle's Indian drama "Slumdog Millionaire" into 1,411 theaters after 10 frames in mostly limited release, reaping $10.6 million for an upbeat $7,476 per venue and a $55.9 million cume. The fifth-place performance by "Slumdog" — which copped the Producers Guild of America's feature-film award Saturday — topped tallies for best picture nominees, but others also saw decent business.

Paramount's literary adaptation "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button," starring Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett, finished ninth with a $6 million session and a $111 million cume.

Universal finally took Ron Howard's political drama "Frost/Nixon" wide and grossed $3 million from 1,099 locations, or $2,750 per site. The tally fell outside the top 10 but raised the cume to $12 million for the Imagine Entertainment/Working Title co-production.

" 'Frost/Nixon' is a very special movie," Universal distribution president Nikki Rocco said. "We didn't make it to blow out big grosses; we made it because we believe in the film and the filmmakers. Where it goes from here I really don't know, but it's had such wonderful recognition throughout the awards season that we are very proud of it."

Production costs totaled less than $30 million, Rocco noted.

The Weinstein Co.'s Nazi-themed drama "The Reader," starring Kate Winslet, shed 50 theaters for a total of 367 after its surprise best picture nom and grossed $1.4 million. That represented a sturdy $3,858 per venue and boosted its cume to $9.7 million ahead of a planned expansion into wide release Friday.

The other best picture Oscar candidate, Gus Van Sant's Harvey Milk biopic "Milk" from Focus Features, regained 27 playdates for a total of 250 in grossing $864,342, or an acceptable $3,457 per engagement. Its cume reached $21.6 million.

Elsewhere this weekend, Clint Eastwood's Oscar-snubbed drama "Gran Torino" continued to show strong market traction for Warners, with a third-place showing of $16 million yielding a $97.6 million cume. "Revolutionary Road" widened from 171 theaters to 1,058 in grossing $5.3 million, or $4,979 per venue, with an $11.9 million cume.

Searchlight drama "The Wrestler," which drew Oscar noms for lead Mickey Rourke and supporting actress Marisa Tomei, added 422 playdates for a total of 566 to register $3.7 million, or a muscular $6,537 per engagement, as its cume reached $9.5 million.

In a limited bow, Weinstein Co./Third Rail's thriller "Killshot" — starring Rourke as a psychopathic killer — unspooled in five theaters and grossed $10,058, or $2,012 per venue. Another Third Rail release, the Jim Caviezel adventure "Outlander," debuted more weakly, grossing just $53,182 from 81 locations, or $657 per site.

Industrywide, the weekend marked a 9% improvement on the similar frame a year earlier at $157 million, according to Nielsen EDI.

Year-to-date, 2009 is off a deceptive 14% at $651.8 million because of seasonal calendar fluctuations.

The R-rated "Lycans" was positioned as a franchise prequel and follows January 2006 sequel "Underworld: Evolution," which bowed with $26.9 million and grossed $62.3 million overall domestically. Franchise originator "Underworld" unspooled in September 2003 with $21.8 million, en route to a $52 million tally.

Starring Rhona Mitra ("Doomsday") and Michael Sheen ("Frost/Nixon"), "Lycans" was helmed by visual effects supervisor-turned-director Patrick Tatopoulos. Opening audiences skewed 59% male, with 55% of patrons age 25 or older.

"It's a terrific opening for us," Sony distribution president Rory Bruer said. "The franchise is alive and well."

Sony estimated "Lycans" production costs at $35 million.

Directed by Iain Softley ("K-PAX"), PG-rated "Inkheart" stars Brendan Fraser and Paul Bettany. Opening audiences skewed toward family moviegoers.

"We're disappointed," Warners exec vp distribution Jeff Goldstein said of the opening. "We were hoping for a higher gross."

Looking ahead to a weekend marked by Super Bowl XLIII on Sunday, three movies will open wide: Fox's actioner "Taken," Lionsgate's romantic comedy "New in Town" and Paramount's suspense pic "The Uninvited." (partialdiff)