Disney sequel a holiday hit

Disney sequel “National Treasure: Book of Secrets” found plenty of loot in its debut at the domestic box office, grossing an estimated $45.5 million from 3,832 theaters and cementing the franchise’s foothold. Original “National Treasure” debuted at $35.1 million over Thanksgiving weekend in 2004.

The four other new wide releases proved no match for holdovers “I Am Legend” and live-action/CGI combo “Alvin and the Chipmunks,” which came in No. 2 and No. 3, respectively, in their sophmore frames, according to Rentrak.

Warner Bros.” “Legend,” starring Will Smith, declined 56% to an estimated $34.2 million from 3,620 theaters for a boffo cume of $137.5 million in the pic’s first 10 days of release.

Twentieth Century Fox’s family friendly “Alvin” fell just 35% to an estimated $29 million from 3,499 theaters for a hefty cume of $84.9 million in the film’s first 10 days.

In a closely watched race, Universal’s Tom Hanks-Julia Roberts starrer “Charlie Wilson’s War” narrowly beat out DreamWorks-Paramount’s Johnny Depp musical adaptation “Sweeney Todd,” although neither film was able to jump the $10 million mark in their debuts.

Directed by Mike Nichols, “Wilson’s War” grossed $9.6 million from 2,575 to place No. 4 for the weekend.

Playing in less than half the number of theaters as “Wilson’s War,” director Tim Burton’s ‘sweeney” grossed an estimated $9.3 million from 1,249 theaters for the No. 5 spot and a per screen average of $7,486. Per location average for “Wilson’s War” was 3,735.

Warner Bros.” Hilary Swank-Gerard Butler romancer “P.S. I Love You” came in No. 5 in its debut, opening at a modest $6.5 million from 2,454 theaters. Warners distributed the film through its output deal with Alcon Entertainment, which produced and put up all the financing.

Sony’s Judd Apatow-produced biopic spoof “Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story” failed to find many laughs, grossing an estimated $4.1 million from 2,650 theaters and coming in at No. 8 behind Disney holdover “Enchanted.” Performance of “Walk Hard” marks a rare blemish for Apatow.

Fox Searchlight’s “Juno” proved the little engine that could, placing No. 10 for the weekend in grossing and estimated $3.4 million as it expanded from 40 to 264 theaters for a cume of $6.4 million.

In placing No. 7, “Enchanted” declined a slim 25% in its fifth frame to an estimated $4.1 million from 2,752 theaters for a cume of $98.3 million.

New Line’s “The Golden Compass” declined 55% in its third frame to $4 million for a cume of $48.4 million. Film came in No. 9 for the weekend.

Overall, distributors were delighted with weekend results.

“Book of Secrets,” “Legend” and “Alvin” combined to propel the box office to record highs on a weekend that can be relatively light in terms of theater traffic as moviegoers are otherwise occupied finishing up last-minute Christmas preparations.

According to Paul Dergarabedia’s Media By Numbers, the frame was up 36.5% from the same weekend last year, when Fox’s “Night at the Museum” led with $42.5 million for the four-day holiday weekend.

That would seem to bode well for the next two weeks, since the Christmas-to-New Year’s stretch historically produces strong box office grosses, with the weekdays looking more like weekends.

Disney prexy of distribution Chuck Viane said “Book of Secrets,” directed by Jon Turtletaub and toplining Nicolas Cage, played well across all demos.

“We”re thrilled to be the market leader in such a competitive marketplace, when you find yourself up against the likes of Julia Roberts, Tom Hanks, Will Smith and Johnny Depp,” Viane said.

Last week, tracking showed that “Book of Secrets” and “Legend” might end up in a horse race, but ultimately, “Book of Secrets” easily pulled ahead. Last year, “Night at the Museum” grossed $163.8 million through the holidays, forecasting good things for “Book of Secrets.”

“Book of Secrets” didn”t seem to eat into “Alvin’s” aud, with “Alvin” playing younger.

“It’s great to be in the singing chipmunk business,” 20th Century Fox senior VP of distribution Chris Aronson said.

Warners exec VP of distribution Jeff Goldstein said the continued strength of “Legend” points to Smith’s star status.

Universal marketing and distribution topper Adam Fogelson said the studio was very pleased with the results of “Wilson’s War,” and that the film is well positioned to play through the extended holiday stretch. He said the movie, intended for an adult aud, hit its mark and that it was the only new title to see a Friday-to-Saturday bump.

“We wanted to be the sophisticated commercial choice for grownups. That’s exactly what we were. It should play great through the holidays,” Fogelson said. “I am proud to say that 80% of our aud was 30 and older. It’s an urban legend that only kids go the movies.”

While “Wilson’s War” is far more breezy than other recent films dealing with the Middle East and the history of the War on Terror, it nevertheless has the sorts of political overtones that auds have shied away from no matter who the star.

Film can safely say it has debuted the strongest among those films. Tom Cruise-Meryl Streep-Robert Redford starrer “Lions for Lambs” opened at $6.7 million, while Jake Gyllenhaal-Reese Whitherspoon starrer “Rendition” opened at $4 million.

“Wilson’s War” cost $75 million to produce, according to U insiders, with the stars taking reduced fees. Penned by Aaron Sorkin, film also stars Philip Seymour Hoffman.

It is Hanks’ lowest opening film since “That Thing You Do!” in 1996, which grossed $6.2 million.

Like Fogelson, DreamWorks spokesman Chip Sullivan said “Sweeney Todd” also starring Helen Bonham Carter–is off to a great start. One of the chief challenges in selling the R-rated musical is its macabre storyline.

“This is not your mother’s ‘sound of Music.” But with the outstanding reviews and the excellent exit polls, we”re in this for the long run,” Sullivan said.

The aud for “Sweeney Todd” skewed slightly male. Overall, 65% of the audience was over the age of 25. Movie is a DreamWorks-Warner Bros. co-production, with DreamWorks-Par distributing domestically.

Sony president of domestic distribution Rory Bruer said there is no denying that the studio would have liked a better start out of the gate for “Walk Hard,” starring John C. Reilly.

“We loved the film, and we had terrific screenings,” Bruer said.

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