By Pau Brunet
What football game?
Fox’s Liam Neeson starrer “Taken” took in an impressive $24.6 million in estimated opening grosses to top domestic rankings over a weekend weakened less than expected by preoccupation with the Super Bowl.
Paramount’s PG-13 thriller “The Uninvited” scared up $10.5 million for a third-place bow, while Lionsgate’s romantic comedy “New in Town,” starring Renee Zellweger and Harry Connick Jr., debuted in eighth with $6.8 million.
The frame’s $129 million in industry coin represented a 1% improvement over last year’s record Super Bowl frame, according to Nielsen.
Essentially, distributors enjoyed big enough boxoffice receipts on Friday and Saturday to compensate for a football-slackened Sunday.
Year-to-date, 2009 is off 10% from a year ago at $824.6 million. But that’s mostly because of seasonal calendar fluctuations.
Meanwhile, two of Oscar’s best-picture nominees staged respectable first-time expansions into wide release during the weekend, despite competition from the pigskin-championship telecast.
The Weinstein Co.’s Nazi-themed drama “The Reader” registered $2.4 million from 1,002 engagements to push its cumulative boxoffice to $12.6 million. Additionally, Focus Features’ Harvey Milk biopic “Milk” grossed $1.4 million from 882 playdates, as the Sean Penn starrer raised its cume to $23.4 million.
Also, Miramax’s drama “Doubt” — whose five Oscar noms include four cast mentions — added 198 locations for a barely wide 602 runs and grossed $801,000. That gave the Meryl Streep and Philip Seymour Hoffman starrer a $27.9 million tally to date.
A fifth-place weekend haul of $8.6 million by Clint Eastwood’s “Gran Torino” gave the actor-director and his Oscar-snubbed urban drama a career-record cume of $110.5 million. Distributed by Warner Bros., “Torino” cruised past Eastwood’s previous personal best of $102.2 million for 1993’s “In the Line of Fire.”
“He’s an extraordinary director and star whose films hold up over time,” Warners exec vp distribution Jeff Goldstein said.
Fox Searchlight’s Indian drama “Slumdog Millionaire” rang up $7.7 million in sixth place, elevating its cume to $67.2 million over a weekend in which helmer Danny Boyle captured the DGA’s feature-film award.
Sony Screen Gems’ three-quel “Underworld: Rise of the Lycans” topped second-session holdovers with $7.2 million in seventh place. The modestly budgeted action fantasy marked a big weekend-over-weekend drop of 65% but still posted a 10-day cume of $32.8 million.
Sony’s irrepressible Kevin James starrer “Paul Blart: Mall Cop” overperformed yet again, grabbing second place on the frame with its $14 million session. The “Blart” cume climbed to $83.4 million over three weeks, with a domestic run of well over $100 million now certain for the Steve Carr-helmed comedy.
“If Paul Blart was in the Super Bowl, he would get called for holding,” Sony spokesman Steve Elzer quipped.
In a limited bow during the weekend, IFC Films unspooled the romantic drama “Medicine for Melancholy” in a single New York location and grossed $14,721.
Sony Pictures Classics brought its French drama “The Class” to six theaters — the first playdates for the Oscar foreign-language nominee since Academy-qualifying runs in December — and grossed $86,514, or an auspicious $14,419 per theater, with a cume of $121,410.
SPC’s other foreign-language candidate — the Israeli animated documentary “Waltz With Bashir” from Israel — added 19 engagements for a total of 44 and grossed $185,687, or a solid $4,220 per site, as the cume reached $1 million.
Searchlight’s Mickey Rourke starrer “The Wrestler” added 151 theaters for a total of 722 and grossed $2.4 million, pushing its cume to $13.9 million.
Helmed by Pierre Morel (“District B13”), “Taken” audiences skewed 52% male, with 60% of patrons 25 or older.
“It was an all-audience film,” Fox senior vp distribution Bert Livingston said. “It’s beyond our expectations.”
“Uninvited” audiences were evenly divided between males and females, with two-thirds of patrons under 25.
“The opening was right where we were expecting,” Par exec vp distribution Don Harris said.
The critically panned “Town” drew audiences that were 65% female, with 56% of patrons 30 or older.
“It opened right in line with our expectations,” Lionsgate distribution president Steve Rothenberg said.
Looking ahead, there will be four wide openers on Friday, all boasting notable casts.
Focus unspools the stop-motion feature “Coraline,” featuring the voice of Dakota Fanning, and Steve Martin reprises his title role in Sony’s comedy “The Pink Panther 2.” Summit also has Fanning toplining its actioner “Push” with Chris Evans, while Warners’ romantic comedy “He’s Just Not That Into You” features an ensemble cast including Jennifer Aniston and Scarlett Johansson.