Oscar noms boost 'Slumdog Millionaire'

Holdover comedy “Paul Blart: Mall Cop” repeated at No. 1 at the weekend box office in a narrow upset over new entry “Underworld: Rise of the Lycans.”

The news would have been good either way for Sony, which distributes both.

“Mall Cop,” toplining Kevin James, continued to overperform in its second sesh, declining 32% to an estimated $21.5 million from 3,144 theaters. Cume is $64.8 million in its first 10 days, according to Rentrak.

“Rise of the Lycans” opened to a solid $20.7 million from 2,942, well behind the $26.9 million opening of previous franchise installment “Underworld: Evolution.” The original “Underworld” debuted to $21.8 million.

Kate Beckinsale starred in the first two pics, but didn’t return for the third. Likewise, her husband, Len Wiseman, directed the first two, but not the latest.

Warners wasn’t so fortunate with the debut of family adventure “Inkheart.” The New Line title came in No. 7 for the frame, grossing an estimated $7.7 million from 2,655.

“We’re disappointed. We wish the opening would have been bigger, but I think it was always going to be this type of result. Unfortunately, the audience wasn’t excited to see it,” said Warner exec VP of domestic distribution Jeff Goldstein.

Overall, domestic box office revenues once again outpaced the same weekend last year. Year-to-date Ticket sales are up more than 13% over the same time period in 2008.

A majority of films have done better business than expected since the first of the year, with “Mall Cop,” in particular, earning notice for its run.

“The weekend was a win-win for us. Fans of the ‘Underworld’ franchise also loved this one. It is a very positive result,” said Sony worldwide prexy of domestic distribution Rory Bruer. “And in regards to ‘Paul Blart,’ wow. I think everyone likes Kevin James.”

“Rise of the Lycans,” costing $35 million to produce, played to an audience that was 59% male, while 55% of the aud was over age 25.

The other big winner of the weekend was Fox Searchlight’s “Slumdog Millionaire,” which rocketed up the box office chart to No. 5 after picking up 10 Oscar nominations, grossing an estimated $10.6 million from 1,411 runs as it successfully expanded nationwide. And Paramount’s best pic contender “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” landed back on the top 10 chart. (See story, page 1.)

Meanwhile, Clint Eastwood’s “Gran Torino” didn’t slow down despite being shut out of the Oscar race. The Warner Bros. pic, directed by and starring Eastwood, came in No. 3 for the weekend.

“Gran Torino” declined a mere 27% in its seventh weekend to an estimated $16 million from 3,045 runs. With a cume of $97.6 million, the film is on the verge of beating both the highest grosser he’s previously directed (“Unforgiven,” $101 million) or starred in (“In the Line of Fire,” $102.2 million).

Paramount’s holdover family pic “Hotel for Dogs” did more than double the business of “Inkheart,” grossing an estimated $12.4 million from 3,271 theaters. Pic, from DreamWorks, dipped only 27% to place No. 4 for the weekend. Cume is $37 million in its first 10 days.

Lionsgate’s “My Bloody Valentine 3-D” placed No. 6 in its second weekend. Pic declined 53% to an estimated $10.1 million from 2,534 runs for a cume of $37.7 million in its first 10 days.

Coming in No. 8 was 20th Century Fox’s “Bride Wars.” Comedy grossed an estimated $7 million in its third weekend for a cume of $48.7 million.

Falling a steep 72% in its second frame, Fox’s Christopher Wallace biopic “Notorious” grossed an estimated $5.7 million from 1,641 for a cume of $31.8 million.

Elsewhere at the box office, Warners re-released Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight” over the weekend after picking up eight Oscar nominations, including supporting actor for Heath Ledger. Tentpole reopened in 350 locations, including 143 Imax runs, grossing roughly $670,000 for a new domestic cume of $531.7 million.

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