Audiences get ‘Married’ at box office

Tyler Perry comedy tops 'Clayton,' 'Night'

Auds were eager to walk down the B.O. aisle with Tyler Perry once again as his romantic comedy “Why Did I Get Married?” topped the weekend box office. But there was a late-frame upset as holdover “The Game Plan” edged out star-packed wide entrants “Michael Clayton” and “We Own the Night” for the No. 2 slot.

Stumbling in its bow, however, Universal and Working Title’s Cate Blanchett starrer “Elizabeth: The Golden Age” couldn’t get near enough to the throne to place among the weekend’s top five.

Lionsgate’s “Married” grossed an estimated $21.5 million from 2,011 runs, marking another coup for Perry, who directed and starred in the film opposite Janet Jackson. Of Perry’s four films — all released by Lionsgate, where the African-American filmmaker has a deal — three have opened at No. 1.

Disney’s “Game Plan,” starring Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson, declined just 30% in its third frame to gross an estimated $11.5 million from 3,128, according to Rentrak. Cume is $59.4 million.

After that, only a hair’s breadth separated Warner Bros.’ George Clooney starrer “Michael Clayton” from Sony’s Mark Wahlberg-Joaquin Phoenix crime drama “We Own the Night,” which placed third and fourth, respectively.

“Clayton,” also starring Tilda Swinton and Tom Wilkinson, grossed an estimated $11.01 million as it expanded from exclusive runs in Gotham and Los Angeles to 2,511 theaters nationwide. Per-screen average was $4,385; cume is $12 million.

“Night,” also starring Robert Duvall, grossed an estimated $11 million even from 2,362 runs.

“Golden Age,” the long-awaited follow-up to 1998’s “Elizabeth,” grossed an estimated $6.2 million from 2,001 locations. That put it at No. 6, right behind DreamWorks-Paramount’s Ben Stiller laffer “The Heartbreak Kid.”

“Heartbreak,” whose underperformance is the first B.O. blemish for DreamWorks this year, declined 47% in its second frame to $7.4 million; cume is $26 million.

Also in second frame, Fox Walden’s family title “The Seeker: The Dark Is Rising” fell to No. 10, declining 43% to an estimated $2.1 million from 3,173. Cume is $7.1 million.

Overall, fall business remained sluggish, troubling distributors and exhibitors, who gather today in Orlando, Fla., for the ShowEast exhib confab.

For the frame, the box office was down 10% over the same weekend last year, when “The Grudge 2” and “The Departed” led, according to Nielsen EDI. While the year is still running 7% over last year thanks to the boffo summer, the fall is down 5% so far from the season a year ago.

The strong perf of “Game Plan” may add fuel to the theory that there are too many serious adult dramas in the marketplace vying for awards-season attention.

“It’s very unusual to have a movie that drops 28% in its second weekend and then only 30% in its third. That’s outlandishly good, especially considering the star power of these other films,” said Disney prexy of distribution Chuck Viane.

The Mouse House said that in addition to the father-daughter pic’s core family aud, adults are now checking out “Game Plan.”

Heading into the weekend, most were predicting a tight race between the new entries. No one foresaw that “Game Plan” would come in where it did, or that “Married” would perform so strongly and do nearly double the business of “Clayton” and “Night.”

“The pundits have consistently underestimated Tyler Perry. Time after time, he confounds the experts,” said Tom Ortenberg, Lionsgate prexy of theatrical films.

“Married,” however, wasn’t able to top the debuts of Perry’s “Diary of a Mad Black Woman,” which opened at $21.9 million in 2005 on its way to a domestic cume of $50.4 million, or “Madea’s Family Reunion,” which opened in 2006 at $30 million on its way to $63.2 million.

Perry’s last film, “Daddy’s Little Girls,” opened to $11.2 million earlier this year. It was also the only of the four Perry films in which he hasn’t starred.

Ortenberg said Perry still draws a primarily African-American audience but that “Married” did show some crossover. He says the studio is looking to expand that part of the film’s aud.

Lionsgate also saw James Mangold’s Western remake “3:10 to Yuma” cross the $50 million mark over the weekend, grossing $1.5 million from 1,820 runs for a cume of $51.4 million.

Warners prexy of domestic distribution Dan Fellman remained upbeat on “Michael Clayton” as an awards-season contender. Moody legal drama scored one of the best per-screen averages of the year — $47,994 — in its limited run the weekend before.

“It is one of the best-reviewed movies of the year so far. It is truly a contender,” Fellman said.

Fellman added that the film, helmed by Tony Gilroy in his directorial debut, saw the biggest Friday-to-Saturday bump among the new dramas, suggesting it was the favorite choice among adults. “Clayton” was up 42%, while “Night” was up 14%, for example.

“Clayton” reportedly cost $22 million to produce, while Sony acquired “Night” for $10 million-$11 million.

Sony execs said the box office perf of “Night” was in line with expectations.

As for Universal, it’s seeking awards attention with “Golden Age,” which the studio took to Toronto for a high-profile preem.

U conceded it would have liked for the film to do better at the box office but said it should have nice playability considering strong exit polls. Comparisons to the perf of the original “Elizabeth” are difficult, as that pic was released in a limited run before being platformed. That film, for which Blanchett received an Oscar nom, grossed $30 million domestically.

Blanchett was a big draw for auds this time out, suggesting that the second film will have some traction.

“I think the marketplace is really tough,” U prexy of distribution Nikki Rocco said. “There are too many films competing for the same audience.”

The weekend’s other new wide release was Yari Film Group’s sports drama “The Final Season,” which barely made a dent in the weekend’s tally, grossing an estimated $665,000 from 1,011 runs for a per-screen average of $658.