'Norbit' take hefty at $33.7 mil


Eddie Murphy is proving to be as big of a movie star as the fat suit he wears in the DreamWorks comedy "Norbit."

The Academy Award-nominated actor has earned himself the top spot in the North American boxoffice rankings with his latest film, a Paramount Pictures release, just two weekends before he could very well nab his first Oscar statuette off his "Dreamgirls" performance.

But while "Norbit" killed with an estimated $33.7 million for the three-day frame, the thriller "Hannibal Rising," an MGM release of a film from the Weinstein Co., died at a meager $13.3 million.

"Hannibal's" disappointing opening take dragged down the weekend's boxoffice totals, which saw the top 12 movies down an estimated 10% compared to the same frame last year. It marks the sixth consecutive down weekend of 2007.

Universal Pictures' romantic comedy "Because I Said So" held up well in its second weekend, grossing an estimated $9 million and falling only 31% to nab the third spot in the boxoffice rankings. The Diane Keaton starrer has grossed an estimated $25.6 million in 10 days of release.

Sony Pictures' "The Messengers" didn't hold up as strongly. Typical for a horror flick, the Screen Gems production, which ranked No. 1 last weekend, fell an estimated 51%, grossing $7.2 million. The film's cume stands at an estimated $24.7 million after two weekends in wide release.

20th Century Fox's "Night at the Museum" continues to astonish. The film, which has been in theaters for two months, fell only 10% compared to its last frame. In fifth place, the Ben Stiller starrer from director Shawn Levy earned an estimated $5.7 million to put its cume at an astronomical $232 million.

Another Universal holdover also seems to be hanging in there a bit more strongly than expected. The Joe Carnahan-directed "Smokin' Aces" fell 38% in its third weekend in release, grossing an additional $3.7 million. In seventh place, the R-rated actioner has earned $30.8 million in its 17 days in release. Fox's parody "Epic Movie" tumbled 47% as it collected $4.5 million, which put it in sixth place.

Oscar-nominated films rounded out the top 10, with Guillermo del Toro's "Pan's Labyrinth" continuing to interest audiences. The adult fantasy tale fell only 4% from last weekend on 61 additional theaters. The R-rated Spanish-language film from Picturehouse has grossed $26.5 million.

DreamWorks' "Dreamgirls" is limping its way to the $100 million mark. Released by Paramount, the Bill Condon-directed musical, which was left out of the best picture and best director categories for this year's Academy Awards, fell 23% upon losing 500 theaters. Earning an additional $3 million, the film's gross stands at an estimated $97 million. In contrast, Miramax's "The Queen," which lost nearly 300 of its theaters, fell just 5% for an additional $2.5 million. With six Oscar nominations, the Helen Mirren starrer has been in theaters for 20 weeks, closing in on a total of $50 million.

"Norbit" is the big story of the weekend. Not only does its $33.7 million haul underscore Murphy's value as a movie star -- the film marks his highest-grossing live-action opener -- but it should also ease some tensions within the DreamWorks/Paramount family. DreamWorks is taking full credit for this release: DreamWorks spokesman Marvin Levy called it the studio's first solo production since it was acquired by Paramount.

" 'Norbit' is the first one since the Paramount deal that has been ours entirely from the production side," Levy said. "It's nice to know that the first one out of the box works. 'Norbit' is one we've been targeting as what 2007 can be all about. We have a range of movies from various genres that we've very excited about."

DreamWorks has had great success with Murphy. In addition to his roles in "Dreamgirls" and "Norbit," Murphy will again voice the character of Donkey in the May release "Shrek the Third" from DreamWorks Animation. "Norbit," meanwhile, is Murphy's 14th film to bow at No. 1.

"He's a huge talent, pure and simple," Levy said. "He's a very important guy in our world."

"Hannibal's" $13.3 million take might finally put a stop to the boxoffice reign of serial killer Hannibal Lecter. Five years since his last outing in "Red Dragon," Hannibal returned in a prequel about his formative years starring a cast of unknowns. But without Anthony Hopkins, the franchise has lost a lot of its bite.

In 3,003 theaters, the Peter Webber-directed film generated an estimated $4,446 per-theater average. While not a disastrous figure, it pales against the opening weekends for others in the Hannibal series.

The film was produced by Dino De Laurentiis and marketed heavily in the U.S. by the Weinsteins. Harvey Weinstein maintained the film, for which his company paid nothing upfront, will be profitable for the indie concern. "We are pleased with the release strategy for 'Hannibal Rising,' which will be a profitable film for TWC," he said.

In limited release, Sony Pictures Classics bowed the Academy Award-nominated film "The Lives of Others" on 13 screens. From German writer-director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, "Others" opened to $222,727 for a strong per-screen average of $17,133. The film's cume stands at $230,109, which includes a one-week Academy-qualifying run late last year.

SPC intends to expand the German-language film slowly, adding its broadest number of runs the weekend before and after the Feb. 25 Academy Awards.

MGM's second weekend of the Weinstein Co.'s "Factory Girl" was strong. The Sienna Miller starrer grossed $184,000 on 18 screens, up 15 from the previous frame. The R-rated film boasted a per-screen average of $10,222 for a cume of $310,215.

Fox Searchlight's Oscar-nominated films held up well. The Judi Dench/Cate Blanchett-starrer "Notes on a Scandal" fell only 10% to gross $1.5 million. On 649 screens, the film's per-theater average was $2,427, putting its cume at $13.9 million.

Meanwhile, "The Last King of Scotland" rose 6%. On 12 more screens this frame, the Forest Whitaker starrer grossed $1.3 million on 540 screens for a per-theater average of $2,500. The film's cume has reached $11.4 million.

Paramount Vantage's "Babel," which has been nominated for seven Academy Awards, was up 3% this frame, even though it played 171 fewer theaters. The ensemble drama, directed by Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, grossed $1.7 million to boost its cume to $32 million.

Warner Bros. Pictures' "Letters From Iwo Jima" also held its own during its eighth weekend. The Clint Eastwood-directed film tallied $1.6 million, down 2% from last weekend with 61 additional screens. The R-rated film's cume stands at $9.8 million.

Warners' "The Departed" didn't hold up as well. The rerelease of the Oscar-nominated film fell 41% from last weekend, generating $1.3 million in additional ticket sales. The film's cume stands at $130.7 million.

Total domestic boxoffice for the week ending Thursday amounted to $122.1 million, down 8% from last year's $132.8 million during the comparable frame. Total boxoffice for the year is $761.8 million, down more than 5% from 2006's $802.5 million. Admissions are down more than 9% from last year's level.