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Monday, January 21, 2008

A monster and a bridesmaid dominate MLK weekend

A monster and a bridesmaid helped the box office post its biggest Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend ever, as the top ten films put up over $129 million over the Friday-Sunday frame of the four-day holiday weekend (estimates for that coming Monday).

Leading the charge was Paramount's mega-hyped monster flick Cloverfield, which took in a massive $41 million in its debut weekend. Produced by J.J. Abrams and directed by Matt Reeves, the $25 million budgeted picture detroyed both the MLK holiday record set by 2002's Black Hawk Down with $28.6 million, as well as the January opening weekend record set by 1997's re-release of Star Wars with $35.9 million.

Normally January is a very quiet month at the box office. Studios dump films they couldn't fit into any of the more lucrative time frames of the year, and audiences are usually burnt out from the long holiday season. But thanks to a saavy show-nothing ad campaign (launched with a cryptic preview at the head 'Transformers' last summer) that generated phenomenal internet buzz, anticipation from the film's core under 25 demographic was immense. A cross between The Blair Witch Project and Godzilla, critics were quite supportive of the high-concept project, with critics polled by Rottentomatoes.com giving the film a 76% recommendation rating.

Running at a svelt 84 minutes, Cloverfield pulled in $16.9 million on Friday (including late Thursday night screenings), falling a hefty 19% on Saturday. With two high profile NFL Conference Championship games playing on Sunday, Paramount estimated another 25% drop in sales on Sunday, which still seems too conservative.

In a nice counterprogramming move to Cloverfield and NFL football coverage, Fox's romantic comedy 27 Dresses finished a strong second with $22.4 million. Starring Katherine Heigl, the PG-13 film averaged an impressive $7,336 in 3,057 theaters. The debut was below Heigl's hugely popular comedy Knocked Up, which took in $30.6 million last June. And unlike Knocked Up, the Anne Fletcher directed pic didn't earn anywhere close to the same critical accolades (rottentomatoes.com scored the film at just 37%).

Debuting in seventh was the poorly-reviewed comedy Mad Money, which took in an estimated $7.7 million this weekend. Starring Queen Latifah, Diane Keaton and Katie Holmes, the Overture Pictures release averaged just $3,126 in 2,470 theaters.

Among holdovers, Focus Features' acclaimed Atonement rode a strong wave off its Golden Globe award for Best Dramatic Feature, jumping 12.7% to $4.7 million. In seven weeks of limited release, the Oscar front-runner has grossed $31.8 million. Warner's The Bucket List fell just 22% to $15.1 million, bringing its ten day take to $42.7 million.

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