Ticket sales up 18% over 2007

Thanks to a handful of holiday holdovers and a crop of successful releases during the month, January saw record-breaking numbers at the domestic box office — up 18% over last year.

Total B.O. for the month, excluding New Year’s Day, was $773.4 million through Tuesday vs. $657.9 million during the period a year ago, $703 million in 2006, and $648 million in 2005, according to Rentrak.

Since mid-December, three films have crossed the $200 million mark at the domestic B.O. — a phenomenon unheard of at this time of year: Twentieth Century Fox’s “Alvin and the Chipmunks” (which has sung louder at the box office than anybody expected), Warner Bros.’ “I Am Legend” and Disney sequel “National Treasure: Book of Secrets.”

Released on Dec. 14, “Legend” has grossed $252 million to date, while “Book of Secrets” has taken $206.3 million, according to Rentrak.

“Alvin,” also released on Dec. 14, has grossed $204.5 million. Fox saw a golden opportunity for a younger-skewing family movie and jumped at it. Family movies traditionally have strong legs, but in addition, “Alvin” has faced virtually no competition.

Only one film crossed the $200 million mark during the same period a year ago, 20th Century Fox’s “Night at the Museum.”

But it wasn’t just the big event titles that turned this January into a box office legend.

Earlier this week, Fox Searchlight’s quirky dramedy “Juno” jumped the $100 million mark — an achievement only a few specialty pics can boast. The film has grossed $101.4 million as it rides a strong awards wave, including an Oscar nomination for best pic.

Warner Bros.’ Jack Nicholson-Morgan Freeman starrer “The Bucket List,” which opened exclusively over Christmas and went nationwide on Jan. 11, has grossed $59.4 million to date, outpacing expectations.

Warner-Alcon Entertainment’s Hilary Swank-Gerard Butler romancer “P.S. I Love You” also worked, as did Sony’s romancer “The Holiday” last year.

“I Love You,” which bowed on Dec. 21, is tapering out now but has grossed $52 million domestically. That puts it slightly ahead of DreamWorks-Paramount’s Johnny Depp musical “Sweeney Todd,” which has grossed $50 million to date.

As for January releases, Paramount’s monster pic “Cloverfield” smashed through several records when it opened to $46 million over the four-day Martin Luther King Jr. weekend, including a three-day weekend take of $41 million — the biggest January opening of all time.

“Cloverfield,” which did take a steep 68% drop in its second weekend, has grossed $65.8 million after costing $25 million to produce.

Fox 2000-Spyglass Entertainment’s Katherine Heigl starrer “27 Dresses” also has fit well with auds. Romantic comedy opened Jan. 18, the same day as “Cloverfield,” and has grossed $46.9 million.

Last weekend, Fox’s swords-and-sandals spoof “Meet the Spartans” and Lionsgate’s “Rambo” flexed plenty of muscle in their debuts, grossing $18.5 million and $18.2 million, respectively.

On the specialty side, “Juno” wasn’t the only title enjoying strong grosses, as awards contenders substantially expanded their runs in January. Focus Features’ “Atonement” has grossed a hefty $38.5 million. Paramount Vantage’s “There Will Be Blood,” which is earlier in its run than “Atonement,” has grossed $15.6 million. Both also received Oscar best pic noms.

Films that weren’t quite able to participate in the box office gold rush include Sony laffer “Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story,” TWC’s “The Great Debaters” and DreamWorks and Par Vantage’s “The Kite Runner.”

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