Holiday weekend boasts 'Avatar' plus 'Eli,' 'Spy'

The Martin Luther King Jr. holiday could see another record-breaking weekend at the domestic B.O. as Warner Bros.’ apocalyptic actioner “The “Book of Eli” and Lionsgate’s family action-comedy “The Spy Next Door” enter the mix.

Four-day holiday frame also sees Paramount/DreamWorks’ “The Lovely Bones” expand nationwide after a limited run, jumping from three runs to 2,550. “Book of Eli” goes out in 3,111; “Spy Next Door,” 2,924.Winner of the sesh could easily be 20th Century Fox’s “Avatar,” which so far hasn’t shown any sign of wear and tear. Last weekend, the James Cameron-directed pic grossed $50.3 million in its fourth frame.

Through Wednesday, film’s domestic cume was $445.8 million. Overseas, “Avatar’s” cume is well north of $900 million.

Specialty pics vying for awards attention could enjoy a bump as moviegoers catch up before Sunday’s Golden Globes kudocast. Also, Sony Pictures Classics’ “The Last Station,” which had a qualifying run, goes out in three theaters in New York and Los Angeles. IFC opens Andrea Arnold’s “Fish Tank,” which won the jury prize in Cannes, in Gotham, with plans to expand over the next few weeks.

“Book of Eli,” toplining Denzel Washington, is tracking strong. Film was directed by brothers Albert and Allen Hughes.

“Eli” revolves around a man in the not-so-distant future who possesses the world’s last Bible, which contains the key to mankind’s redemption. Gary Oldman also stars, while Gary Whitta penned the script.

Alcon Entertainment produced “Eli” together with Joel Silver’s Silver Pictures.

“Spy Next Door” was financed and produced by Ryan Kavanaugh’s Relativity Media; Lionsgate is releasing via its output deal with Relativity.

Starring Jackie Chan, Billy Ray Cyrus and George Lopez, pic tells the story of a former spy who is asked to look after his girlfriend’s three kids; chaos ensues. Brian Levant directed.

“Spy Next Door,” rated PG, may skew young enough not to be hurt by “Avatar,” which is picking up steam with tweens.

On the same weekend last year, Paramount kidpic “Hotel for Dogs” grossed $17 million for the three days and $22.9 million for the four.

Also opening over the Martin Luther King holiday in 2008 was “Paul Blart: Mall Cop,” which won the weekend with $31.8 million and grossed $39.2 million for the four days. Most box office observers believe “Avatar” and “Book of Eli” could see similar numbers.

Paramount execs believe “The Lovely Bones,” revolving around a 14-year-old girl who is murdered at the film’s start, will appeal to teenage girls and young women. Directed by Peter Jackson, pic is based on the bestselling book by Alice Sebold.

Film has struggled in its limited run, but Par and DreamWorks are hoping interest picks up as it expands nationwide, away from the holiday crush. Through Wednesday, cume was $462,573.

Among Golden Globe contenders, Par’s “Up in the Air” continues to do steady biz, grossing $56.7 million through Wednesday. It received six Globe nominations, the most of any film.

The Weinstein Co.’s Rob Marshall musical “Nine” followed with five noms but has had a far more difficult time at the B.O. Film expanded nationwide alongside “Up in the Air” on Christmas Day but has since shed theaters due to underwhelming grosses.

“Nine” could see a rebound if it scoops any Globes. Musical’s cume through Wednesday was $17.4 million.

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