‘Mall Cop’ tops at box office

Kevin James comedy takes in $33.8 million

Sony’s Kevin James laffer “Paul Blart Mall Cop” debuted to an estimated $33.8 million from 3,144 runs in another boom session at the domestic B.O. that saw unexpectedly strong results across the board.

The Martin Luther King. Jr. holiday weekend was up a whopping 31% over last year, and that was only for Friday through Sunday. Studios can look forward to more good business on Monday.

Like “Mall Cop,” Lionsgate’s horror pic “My Bloody Valentine 3-D” and Fox release “Notorious” overperformed in their openings

“Valentine” — the widest 3-D release to date — grossed an estimated $21.9 million from 1,033 3-D locations and 1,501 conventional runs to narrowly beat “Notorious” for third place, according to Rentrak.

“Notorious,” a biopic of slain rap artist Christopher Wallace, aka Notorious B.I.G., grossed an estimated $21.5 million from 1,638 theaters to post the best per-location average — $13,126 — of the weekend. Film was distributed by Fox but produced and marketed by Fox Searchlight. Opening is the biggest ever for the specialty unit.

Warner Bros.’ holdover sleeper hit “Gran Torino,” directed by and starring Clint Eastwood, gunned past “Valentine” and “Notorious” to come in second. Film declined a mere 25% to an estimated $22.2 million in its second weekend in wide release for a cume of $73.2 million.

The other new wide release was Paramount’s family comedy “Hotel for Dogs,” which also came in ahead of expectations with an estimated $17.7 million from 3,271 to place No. 5. Pic was produced by DreamWorks.

Paramount prexy of distribution Jim Tharp said “Hotel for Dogs” could ultimately do three or four times its opening number thanks to the long holiday weekend. Same applies to the other new releases.

“Certainly, ‘Hotel for Dogs’ came in at the top end of anyone’s expectations,” Tharp said.

On the specialty side, Searchlight’s “Slumdog Millionaire” enjoyed a noticeable bump from its Golden Globe wins.

The year-earlier sesh wasn’t weak: Par’s high-profile “Cloverfield” debuted to $40.1 million for the three days and Fox’s “27 Dresses” opened at $23 million. Rather, more films this year did more biz.

Even titles with overlapping auds managed to find their groove. “Mall Cop” and “Hotel for Dogs” both vied for families, although “Mall Cop” generally played to older kids.

“Ultimately, we got everybody,” Sony worldwide prexy of distribution Rory Bruer said.

“Mall Cop” is a victory for James, as it’s the first feature he’s toplined. Comedy was produced by Adam Sandler’s production shingle Happy Madison and cost $26 million to produce. Sony believes the film could hit $40 million by midnight on Monday.

Produced for under $15 million, “Valentine” should bring strong returns for Lionsgate. Most 3-D fare has been family or teen fare, such as “Hannah Montana/Miley Cyrus: Best of Both Worlds Concert Tour.”

Lionsgate said 3-D runs turned in revenues four times greater than conventional runs, thanks to higher ticket prices.

“This is the first time horror fans have gotten something in 3-D,” Lionsgate prexy of distribution Steve Rothenberg said, speaking of the digital iteration of the format. “Notorious,” produced for under $20 million and starring Jamal Woolard as Wallace, crossed over beyond its key demo, according to Fox. Film played slightly more to men.

Fox said the big surprise was that 40% of the audience was under age 25, even though Wallace — also known as Biggie Smalls — was killed more than a decade ago.

“He is a cultural icon that has touched a nerve and resonated with younger auds, proving the impact he’s had on the landscape,” Fox Senior VP of distribution Chris Aronson said.

Among the producers of “Notorious” is Sean Combs.

Elsewhere on the top 10 chart, Fox’s femme comedy “Bride Wars” declined only 44% in its second frame to an estimated $11.8 million from 3,228. Cume is $37.6 million in the pic’s 10th day in release.

Universal/Rogue Picture’s horror title “The Unborn” dipped a respectable 50% in its second weekend to an estimated $9.8 million from 2,359 for a cume of $33.1 million.

Ed Zwick’s drama “Defiance,” a Paramount Vantage release, placed No. 8 as it went wide. Film grossed an estimated $9.2 million from 1,789; cume is $9.5 million.

Christmas hit “Marley and Me,” from Fox, grossed an estimated $6.3 million from 2,952 runs for a cume of $132.7 million in its fourth sesh.

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