Denzel Washington action pic loads up $11.7 million

Warner Bros.’ Denzel Washington actioner “The Book of Eli” kicked off the Martin Day Luther King Jr. weekend on Friday with $11.7 million off 3,111 runs, giving the thesp his second highest opening day at the box office behind 2007’s “American Gangster” which minted $15.9 million.

“Eli” also files behind 2008’s “Cloverfield,” which continues to hold the opening day record for an MLK Jr. frame release ($17.2 million).

The success of “Eli” over the holiday frame is quite an anomaly given its R-rating. Typically PG and PG-13 fare rally the sesh as kids and teens are off from school. The last R-rated film to take the top spot over MLK Jr. weekend was the wide expansion of “Black Hawk Down” which drew $9.9 million in 2002.

Nonetheless, the PG-13 crowd did show up in droves yesterday at the multiplex as Fox’s James Cameron sci-fi epic “Avatar” dipped just 22% at 3,285 locales, adding another $10.4 million to its gargantuan domestic tally which currently stands at $460.9 million. There is a decent possibility that matinee and Monday turnstile traffic will propel “Avatar” past “Eli” for the weekend crown.

Moppet fare such as Fox’s holdover of “Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel” and Lionsgate’s Jackie Chan entry “The Spy Next Door” took fifth and sixth respectively with an estimated $2.4 million each (“Squeakquel” had a slighter edge). Despite the low bow for “Spy,” afternoons are prime for the family pic to heighten its cumes. Last year, Par’s “Hotel for Dogs” bowed in fifth with an opening day of $4.3 million and a three-day weekend of $17 million and slept its way to a final domestic tally of $73 million.

“Squeakquel” held with a 30% decline from a week ago and a new domestic B.O. of $183.5 million.

After struggling in its limited run, Paramount’s “The Lovely Bones” expansion fell in line with the Melrose studio’s expectations, taking third with $5.7 million off 2,563. The film, directed by Peter Jackson and based on the novel by Alice Sebold, originally had a release date of March 13, 2009 – the weekend after “Watchmen” bowed. Par held the pic for award season. Among “Bones” accolades is a Screen Actors Guild award nomination for Stanley Tucci’s best supporting thesp work as a greasy murderer. Total domestic B.O. for “Bones” stands north of $6 million.

Warner Bros.’ “Sherlock Holmes” continued to chart above last weekend’s holdovers with $2.8 million in fourth, down 44% on 3,173, and an estimated domestic B.O. of $173 million.

Universal’s adult-demo laffer “It’s Complicated” took $2.3 million in seventh, down 28% on 2,673 with a running cume in its fourth Friday of $82.9 million.

Warner Bros.’ “The Blind Side” and Par’s “Up in the Air” both declined less than 30% from a week ago, taking respective spots nine and ten. “Blind” scored $1.6 million off 2,408 with a new cume in its ninth Friday of $222.8 million while “Air” breathed in $1.5 million on 2,107 for a new estimated total of $58.9 million.

The steamroll effect of “Avatar” in the marketplace coupled with Warner Bros.’ “Eli” forced last weekend’s entries, “Leap Year,” “Daybreakers” and “Youth in Revolt” further down in the Friday chart. “Leap” fell 44% to eighth place with $1.8 million on 2,512 and a domestic total of $13.5 million. As is typical with most horror pics, “Daybreakers” dropped 75% on 2,523 with an estimated $1.47 million in eleventh and an eight-day total of $20.7 million. “Revolt” counted $965,000 on 1,873 in twelfth, down 64% with a running cume of $10.1 million.

Sony Pictures Classics’ “The Last Station,” which has been picking up award traction, finally bowed in three locales in Gotham and Los Angeles with $6,390 per theater or $19,000. The film about Leo Tolstoy in his later years has earned a supporting acting nom for Christopher Plummer, who plays the famed novelist, as well as an actress nod for Helen Mirren, who plays Tolstoy’s wife, from both the Golden Globes and SAG Awards.

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