‘Sherlock Holmes’ outsmarts B.O. competition

Film posts record Christmas haul of $24.9 million

Warner Bros.’ period action pic “Sherlock Holmes” raked in $24.9 million yesterday, notching the best Christmas day opening ever at the domestic box office.

Directed by Guy Ritchie, “Sherlock” marks the Blighty helmer’s first wide release stateside after making his mark with a string of high-octane actioners such as “Snatch” and “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels.” The film, in play at 3,626 venues, easily becomes the best opening for Ritchie as his previous pics received platform bows. “Sherlock” also served up runner-up opening day records for producer Joel Silver and leading thesp Robert Downey, Jr., whose respective highs are “The Matrix Reloaded” ($42.5 million) and “Iron Man” ($38.7 million). “Sherlock” is Ritchie’s second collaboration with Silver after last year’s Gerard Butler shoot-em up “RockNRolla.”

In addition, “Sherlock” filed the second best Friday bow in December for Warner Bros. behind 2007’s “I Am Legend” ($30.1 million).

Overall, the top 10 films totaled a spectacular $82.9 million, repping a 24% gain on Christmas 2008 (which fell on a Thursday) and a 31% rise over the same Friday, December 26th, a year ago.

Undeterred by the onslaught of another tentpole in the marketplace, Fox’s “Avatar” dipped 12%, taking $23.5 million off 3,456. Behind “Titanic’s” $600 million-plus domestic B.O, New Line’s “Lord of the Rings: Return of the King” remains December’s second highest grosser with $377 million. With an estimated running take of $160.8 million, “Avatar” is currently pacing ahead of “Return of the King” through its first eight days by 2%.

Fox’s holiday moppet fav “Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel” will no doubt catapult past its first installment’s seven-day gross of $55.9 million. “Squeakquel” crooned $14.5 million in its third day off 3,700 for a current domestic B.O. of $41.4 million.

Universal’s Nancy Meyers romantic comedy “It’s Complicated” starring Meryl Streep, Alec Baldwin and Steve Martin opened in fourth with $7.1 million off 2,887. The last minute R-rating for “It’s Complicated” didn’t taint its aud turnout with the pic besting the opening days of Meyers’ previous two December romantic laffers: 2003’s “Something’s Gotta Give” ($5.3 million) and 2006’s “The Holiday” ($4.4 million) which posted respective three-day weekends of $16.1 million and $12.8 million.

Paramount’s expansion of George Clooney headliner “Up in the Air” flew to fifth yesterday with $3.7 million from 1,895 and a running estimated domestic cume of $16.4 million. “Air’s” Friday shot up close to threefold over a week ago when the pic played at 72 locales.

Expansions and exclusives

Weinstein Co. took “Nine” wide yesterday from four engagements to 1,408 which generated $2.05 million for the Rob Marshall tuner in eighth place and a running B.O. total in its second Friday of $2.4 million.

Also in its second Friday, Fox Searchlight’s “Crazy Heart” strummed a theater average high yesterday with an estimated $14,000 at four venues or $56,000.

Helmer Terry Gilliam’s 12th feature film which features the final performance of thesp Heath Ledger, “The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus” from Sony Classics, charted a per site of $12,940 at six houses on its opening day or $78,000.

Sony Classics will also bow one more feature in exclusive release on Dec. 30, the Cannes Palme d’Or winner “The White Ribbon.”

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