'Norbit' in orbit with $34.2 mil bow


Eddie Murphy's latest comic creation, the forbidding big mama Rasputia, faced off against the young Hannibal Lecter at the North American boxoffice this past weekend and easily squashed the young serial killer.

"Norbit," a comedy directed by Brian Robbins in which Murphy, with lots of latex and costuming, plays three roles, grabbed $34.2 million as it set up shop in 3,136 theaters and collected a resounding $10,904 per theater. The PG-13-rated movie, a DreamWorks production released by Paramount Pictures, was Murphy"s 14th No. 1 opener and his second-biggest opening ever for a live-action film. Setting aside the "Shrek" animated movies, in which he voices the character of Donkey, Murphy's best live-action opening remains 2000's "Nutty Professor II: The Klumps," which bowed to $42.5 million. "Norbit" was still several notches above Murphy's last comic outing, 2003's "The Haunted Mansion," which debuted to $24.3 million.

While "Norbit" belongs in a different movie universe than the current musical "Dreamgirls," for which Murphy earned the respect of his peers in the form of an Academy Award nomination, it still appealed to many of his fans. Moviegoers surveyed by CinemaScore awarded the film an overall grade of B, with moviegoers under 18, which made up 28% of the sampling, the most enthusiastic as they graded it B+.

While it took the No. 2 spot, MGM's release of the Weinstein Co.'s "Hannibal Rising" met with less enthusiasm, as moviegoers branded it with a B-. Marking Lecter's fifth screen appearance, the film, based on Thomas Harris' latest Lecter novel, focuses on the epicene murderer's younger years, with French actor Gaspard Ulliel stepping into the part that Anthony Hopkins made famous.

The new Lecter flick, directed by Peter Webber, proved a tough sell, though. The R-rated movie had to settle for $13.1 million from 3,003 theaters for a middling per-theater average of $4,346.

Among recent releases, Universal Pictures' "Because I Said So," in which Diane Keaton plays a mother meddling in the lives of her three daughters, proved the most resilient. It fell by 30% from its opening weekend, landing in the third spot with a $9.2 million take that brought its cume to $25.8 million.

Meanwhile, Sony Pictures' horror pic "The Messengers," which commanded the top spot the previous weekend, slipped to fourth place, falling by more than 50% as it took in $7.2 million to bring its cume to $24.7 million.

In fifth place, 20th Century Fox's hardy "Night at the Museum" pulled in another $5.8 million to bring its total domestic haul to date to $232.2 million.

Among this year's crop of Academy Award contenders, Picturehouse's "Pan's Labyrinth" continued to show momentum. Adding 61 theaters to its run, it found an additional $3.6 million in 1,143 theaters, bringing its total to $26.6 million.

Paramount's "Dreamgirls," from DreamWorks, continued to close in on the $100 million mark. Picking up nearly $3 million, it now boasts a total domestic purse of $97 million.

Miramax Films' "The Queen" hung on to the 10th spot for the second weekend in a row. Its weekend haul of $2.4 million brought its domestic tally to $48.9 million.

In exclusive bows, Sony Pictures Classics launched the foreign-language film Oscar nominee "The Lives of Others," from German director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck. It collected $213,589 in 13 theaters for a per-theater average of $16,430. Adding in the coin of its Academy-qualifying run in late 2006, its account stands at $220,971.

The weekend's total boxoffice, coming from 101 films in release, amounted to $112.2 million, down more than 7% from the comparable weekend in 2006 when total boxoffice amounted to $120.7 million.