Specialty films get boost from Golden Globes

Keanu Reeves sci-fi remake “The Day the Earth Stood Still” delivered a much needed victory for 20th Century Fox in grossing an estimated $31 million from 3,560 runs to easily win the domestic box office race.

Overseas, the special-effects actioner grossed an estimated $39 million for a worldwide total of $70 million in the pic’s first three days. “Earth” — scoring one of the bigger December openings for a nonfamily title or nonsequel — cost $80 million to produce, according to Fox.

Stateside, “Earth” didn’t have much competition. Overture Films’ “Nothing Like the Holidays” debuted to an estimated $3.5 million from 1,671 locations to come in No. 7, according to Rentrak. Overture minimized its risk by keeping the production budget under $10 million.

Freestyle’s animated toon “Delgo” fell flat in its bow, opening outside the top 10 chart and grossing $915,840 from 2,160 runs for a per-screen average of just $424.

The domestic box office was off by as much as 44% over the same weekend last year, when Warner Bros.’ Will Smith starrer “I Am Legend” opened to $77.2 million and Fox’s “Alvin and the Chipmunks,” $44.3 million. “Legend’s” bow remains the best ever for a December weekend.

Although overall ticket receipts were down dramatically over the weekend, the domestic box office continues to run slightly ahead of last year’s record-breaking haul, reinforcing the theory that the film biz is recession-proof.

There was strength across the marketplace beyond Fox’s “Earth.” Many holdovers saw slim declines, led by Warner Bros./New Line comedy “Four Christmases,” which dipped only 21% in its third sesh to an estimated $13.3 million from 3,540 runs for a cume of $88 million. Laffer came in No. 2.

Summit Entertainment’s “Twilight” came close to eclipsing the domestic gross of “Sex and the City” in earning an estimated $8 million in its fourth frame from 3,649 runs for a cume of $150.1 million. Film, landing at No. 3, dipped 39%.

Coming in No. 4, Disney’s 3-D toon “Bolt” fell just 23% in grossing an estimated $7.5 million from 3,133 runs for a cume of $89 million in its fourth weekend.

Baz Luhrmann’s Nicole Kidman-Hugh Jackman epic “Australia” stayed in the top five, dipping 39% in its third weekend to an estimated $4.3 million from 2,703 theaters for a cume of $38 million. So far, film hasn’t received the awards attention Fox hoped it would, including being shut out in Golden Globe noms. Film will need to do well overseas — where it is rolling out slowly — for Fox to recoup its investment.

Fox has been the odd man out this year in terms of box office performance. “Earth” is the studio’s biggest opening since “Dr. Seuss’ Horton Hears a Who,” which opened to $45 million in the spring.

Sci-fi pics generally see declines from Friday to Saturday, since fans turn out on the first day. “Earth” was the exception in notching a 2% uptick. Last year, “Legend” declined 4% from Friday to Saturday.

“Audiences were moved to see the Earth stand still. We’re in orbit over this opening. To gross $70 million worldwide on a film that cost $80 million is fantastic,” said Fox senior VP of distribution Chris Aronson.

The aud was fairly evenly split, evidence that the studio’s marketing push to entice females in addition to men paid off. Of the aud, 55% were male, while 51% were over the age of 25.

Imax runs of “Earth” paid off big time for both Imax and Fox. Playing on only 123 Imax screens, receipts from those runs repped 12.3% of the total gross.

“It shows that despite the economic downturn, moviegoers are willing to spend a few extra dollars to see a movie in Imax,” said Imax’s Greg Foster.

“Earth,” directed by Scott Derrickson, also stars Jennifer Connelly, Jaden Smith (Will’s son), Kathy Bates, John Cleese and Jon Hamm.

Remakes of classic cult pics can be risky business. “Earth” is an update of Robert Wise’s 1951 black-and-white Cold War film, regarded by many as an all-time favorite sci-film.

In the redo, the storyline revolves around global warming.

Fox, which boasts a number of high-profile 2009 titles, releases its final movie of this year, Jennifer Aniston-Owen Wilson starrer “Marley and Me,” on Christmas Day.

While “Earth” got to enjoy a wide-open playing field, the final weeks of the year are another matter.

Sony’s Smith drama “Seven Pounds” and Warner’s Jim Carrey comedy “Yes Man” both open Friday. There are also a number of specialty films expanding, or opening.

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