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‘Madea’ tops weekend box office

Lionsgate pic takes in $41.1 million

“Tyler Perry’s Madea Goes to Jail” took in $41.1 million, giving Lionsgate its biggest-ever opening weekend during a period of instability for the company.

The bow, also Perry’s biggest to date, far surpassed the previous Lionsgate high of $33.6 million for “Saw III” in 2006. Perry and Lionsgate have been a potent combo, with the multihyphenate’s seven films grossing $300 million domestic to date.

Overall, the box office continued its remarkable hot streak, gaining about 30% thanks in part to strong carryover frames for “Taken” and “Coraline,” which finished Nos. 2 and 3, respectively.

Fox Searchlight reached Oscar Sunday with “Slumdog Millionaire” enjoying a ninth straight week in the top 10. It gathered another $8.1 million to claim the No. 5 spot and send the pic’s cume to $98 million.

“Madea’s” per-screen average of $20,236 was the highest for any movie since last November’s “Twilight.” Its success — at least $10 million better than the top end of internal estimates — reflects several factors:

  • a younger, more racially diverse audience. About 35% of auds were under 35, almost double the level for the last Perry outing, last fall’s “The Family That Preys.” Roughly 13% were Hispanic, up from 5% for “Preys”;

  • a marketplace that’s increasingly allowing target-marketed pics to become full-blown events. About 70% of the “Jail” crowd was African-American, on par with usual numbers;

  • the quality of the material relative to past Perry pics. The film is based on his most popular play, and it’s CinemaScore is an A.

    The only other wide bow on Oscar weekend, Screen Gems comedy “Fired Up,” collected $6 million from 1,810 locations. The distrib could still make some coin on the cheerleading comedy, given its less-than-$20 million production cost.

    Fox’s Liam Neeson thriller “Taken” notched another $11.4 million, dipping just 40% to reach a cume of $95.2 million.

    The rising tide did not lift all boats, however.

    Last weekend’s champ, Warner Bros./New Line’s “Friday the 13th,” hit much more than a sophomore slump, plummeting 81% to push its cume to $55 million overall after a $7.8 million weekend take. Warner Bros./New Line’s “He’s Just Not That Into You” also lost traction, slipping 56% to add $8.5 million for a cume of $70.1 million.

    In addition to the “Madea” numbers, Lionsgate’s January low-budget 3-D release “Bloody Valentine” hit $50 million, giving the company a positive finish to a bumpy February.

    Lionsgate reported a quarterly loss, badly missing Wall Street estimates, and announced significant cuts in production spending and release output for fiscal 2010. As its stock price spiraled downward, activist investor Carl Icahn upped his stake by scooping up bargain-priced shares.

    “To have the second biggest hit of the year after less than two months is really a good feeling,” said distrib chief Steve Rothenberg.

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