'Married' beats Clooney's 'Clayton' to the altar


Related story: 'Ratatouille' brings comfort to boxoffice

ORLANDO -- Tyler Perry spanked George Clooney this weekend.

On what was predicted to be an intensely competitive domestic boxoffice weekend, writer-director Perry's "Why Did I Get Married?" from Lionsgate grossed an estimated $21.5 million to open at No. 1. But Clooney starrer and putative frame favorite "Michael Clayton" from Warner Bros. bowed with just $11 million to snag a third-place tie with Sony opener "We Own the Night," starring Mark Wahlberg and Joaquin Phoenix.

Finishing in the silver-medal position was Disney's family laugher "The Game Plan," toplined by Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, which grossed $11.5 million in its third outing.

The leggy "Game" performance -- which followed two weekend wins for the Andy Fickman-helmed pic -- moved its cume to $59.4 million. Friday's grosses pushed Disney's annual domestic haul past the $1 billion mark for the 11th time.

Universal's historical sequel "Elizabeth: The Golden Age," with Cate Blanchett reprising her title role, bowed in sixth place with $6.2 million. And Yari Film Group's baseball drama "The Final Season" debuted with 1,011 playdates but a gross of $665,000.

Among holdover pics, "The Heartbreak Kid," the Farrelly brothers comedy from DreamWorks/Paramount, dropped 47% from its opening weekend to gross an estimated $7.4 million in fifth place, with a 10-day cume of $26 million. Fox's youth fantasy "The Seeker: The Dark Is Rising" fell 43% in its sophomore session to $2.2 million in 10th place, pushing its cume to $7.1 million.

Universal's Jamie Foxx starrer "The Kingdom" dropped 53% over its third frame to gross $4.6 million in seventh place and move its cume to $40 million. And Lionsgate's Russell Crowe-toplined "3:10 to Yuma," while finishing outside the top 10 in its sixth frame, lassoed another $1.5 million to leg its cume up to $51.4 million.

Industrywide, an estimated $99 million was rung up this weekend, which was down 10% from the same frame last year, according to data tracker Nielsen EDI.

With so many early award-consideration films in the art film swim this year, it's worth noting what may be the season's first belly-flop. Warner Independent's Iraq War-themed drama, "In the Valley of Elah," helmed by Paul Haggis and starring Tommy Lee Jones, grossed just $405,000 from 725 theaters, or a dismal $559 per venue. The cume for the seemingly played-out pic -- which has moved from exclusives to limited runs to modestly wide distribution since Sept. 14 -- is $6.4 million.

By contrast, enthusiasm over playability prospects for "The Darjeeling Limited" were running high at Fox Searchlight, as the Wes Anderson-helmed comedy rung up $1.1 million from 95 playdates, or an auspicious $11,842 per location, with a $2.2 million cume.

"The audiences seem to really be supporting the film, as it's the only enjoyable adult film out there right now, compared to all the more bleak pictures," Searchlight senior vp distribution Sheila DeLoach said.

"Darjeeling," which added 76 engagements this weekend, seeps into a total 200 venues next frame.

Sony Pictures Classics bowed the Michael Caine-Jude Law starrer "Sleuth" in nine theaters and grossed $50,090, an acceptable $5,566 per venue. An incremental expansion is planned over coming frames.

MGM's "Lars and the Real Girl" unspooled in seven locations in New York and L.A. and rung up $84,426 for a pleasing $12,083 per engagement. The Ryan Gosling starrer expands to about two dozen runs in top 10 markets Friday.

The Weinstein Co.'s "Control," a biopic about Joy Division lead singer Ian Curtis -- based on a book by his widow, Deborah Curtis -- grossed an impressive $27,000 from a single New York venue this weekend and $35,000 since its Wednesday debut. "Control" adds an L.A. playdate Friday.

Meanwhile, "Married" built its bountiful bow primarily with urban audiences, Lionsgate distribution president Tom Ortenberg said.

"The overall majority of the audience was African-American," Ortenberg said. "The picture did do more crossover business (than some previous Perry pics), and that is the portion of the audience we're going to try to continue to grow."

Each of the hyphenate's four movies have made incremental gains with non-urban moviegoers, Ortenberg added, so Lionsgate will attempt to build on that with Perry's next pic, the unslotted spring release "Meet the Browns."

Perry started out staging live plays and marketing videotapes of the performances, and much of that same material forms the basis of some of his films.

"Married," which Perry also directed and co-wrote, represents his third-biggest film opening, surpassed by the $30 million debut for last year's "Madea's Family Reunion" and the $21.9 million opening for 2005's "Diary of a Mad Black Woman."

In February, Perry's "Daddy's Little Girls" debuted with $11.2 million, so the win with "Married" represents something of a return to form for the burgeoning crossover star.

"Clayton" drew audiences skewing 53% female, with a whopping 75% of patrons over age 25. Reflecting that older profile, the pic posted a 46% improvement on Saturday, compared with Friday grosses.

Warner execs hope "Clayton" -- produced for $22 million -- will prove an enduring performer, despite being something of a tortoise off the starting blocks.

"Our audience is older, and they responded on Saturday," Warners distribution president Dan Fellman said. "We have, if not the best-reviewed movie of the year, one of the best-reviewed, (and) we're off to a great start."

"We Own the Night" skewed 51% male, with 58% of patrons under age 30.

"In a way, I think that bodes well for it," Sony distribution president Rory Bruer said.

Late-arriving older patrons may help sustain the film over coming frames, he said, adding, "I do think it's going to be around for a while."

Sony acquired "We Own the Night" from 2929 Prods. for about $11 million.

"Elizabeth: The Golden Age" was the oldest-skewing film among the weekend's wide openers, with two-thirds of audiences over 35. Uni execs are confident the Working Title sequel will hold up well over coming weeks.

"Its (audience isn't) an opening-weekend audience," a Uni spokeswoman observed.

Looking ahead to next weekend, another bevvy of wide openers include Sony's comic-book adaptation "30 Days of Night," Fox's pigskin comedy "The Comebacks," Miramax's private-eye drama "Gone Baby Gone," New Line's CIA suspenser "Rendition," DreamWorks/Paramount's emotional drama "Things We Lost in the Fire" and Disney's 3-D release of the animated "Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas."