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Weekend Box Office: The Rite Tops Charts, The Mechanic Opens Solid, Oscar Nominees Get Big Boost

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While there were two major openers over the weekend and both of them opened within expectations, the real news was the performance of the various Oscar nominees that were in a position to capitalize on last week's nominations. Generally speaking, the news was good all around. Topping the weekend was The Rite, as the heavily-advertised religious thriller opened with $15 million. As far as religious horror pictures go, it pales to the $30 million scored by The Exorcism of Emily Rose in 2005, the $19 million earned by The Exorcist: The Beginning in 2004, the $20 million earned in the opening jaunt of The Last Exorcism several months ago (a surprisingly terrific little movie, by the way), and even the $19 million opening weekend of Stigmata from way back in September 1999. Still, The Rite had less overtly horror-ific moments to highlight in the ad campaign, as it mainly had a few fleeting shots of supernatural terror plus Anthony Hopkins to sell. The $35 million Warner Bros/New Line Cinema release will do just fine in the long run, and the film (for what it's worth) is Anthony Hopkins's biggest opening weekend for a top-billed star vehicle where he doesn't play Hannibal Lecter.

The other wide release was The Mechanic, which opened with $11.6 million. The most surprising thing about the box office performance of this Jason Statham vehicle (itself a remake of a 1972 Charles Bronson thriller), was that it managed a 3.0x weekend multiplier, which is quite rare in this day and age. Otherwise, the $11.5 million weekend falls right in Statham's zone of normality for his B-movie action pictures, as most of them generally open between $9 million and $12 million. For CBS Films, this is indeed a win, as they were able to deliver box office results similar to the Statham action films distributed by Lionsgate (War - $10 million, Crank - $10 million, and The Transporter 3 - $12 million), Fox (The Transporter - $9 million), Universal (Death Race - $12 million), and New Line Cinema (Cellular - $10 million). Statham has made a genuine niche for himself with these old-fashioned B-movie action pictures, which has pretty much been vacated by everyone else over the last ten years. In a fashion, Jason Statham is truly the 'last action hero'. The film cost a high (for this genre) $40 million, but CBS Films is only on the hook for acquisition and distribution costs. As it is, USA and/or FX will run this one until the end of days. The only other semi-wide new release was the Lionsgate comedy, From Prada to Nada (a modern-day take on Sense and Sensibility), which grossed $1.1 million on 256 screens.

In Oscar news, The King's Speech went uber-wide and shot up 41% after receiving twelve Oscar nominations and scoring the Director's Guild Award just last night. The acclaimed historical drama grossed $11 million in its sixth weekend of wide release, bringing the total up to $72 million. The rest of the Oscar picks still in wide release were helped by the nominations, but it was more a case of lessening the weekend drops than a huge jump in ticket sales. True Grit (+3%) is now at $148 million, Black Swan (-13%) sits at $90 million, and The Fighter (-2.7%) is at $78 million. 127 Hours expanded to 900 screens but only captured another $2 million. It's not a huge jump for the Best Picture/Best Actor nominee, but the film is now at $13 million and could hit $20 million if it can keep the pace (if James Franco actually wins Best Actor, then $25-$30 million is not out of the question).

Rabbit Hole
dropped just 5% and sits with $1.5 million, while the Best Actress nomination for Nicole Kidman gives the low-key drama an outside shot at recouping its $5 million budget. Biutiful, which played for exactly three days in a couple theaters at the end of the year for Academy consideration, opened in real limited release (57 screens) and earned about $8,000 per screen on the back of Javier Bardem's Best Actor nomination. Blue Valentine added another $1.5 million, thanks to the Best Actress nomination for Michelle Williams. The romantic drama has now grossed $6 million. Finally, The Social Network remains on over three hundred screens, as it desperately tries to cross the $100 million mark in time for Oscar night. It's at $96 million so far.

In holdover news, No Strings Attached dropped just 30% in weekend two, giving the Natalie Portman/Ashton Kutcher romantic-comedy $39 million in ten days, or about what The Dilemma has grossed in seventeen days (at 3x the cost of the $25 million No Strings Attached). The Green Hornet held up strong, dropping 36% in weekend three and giving the surprisingly popular (because it's surprisingly good) superhero adventure $78 million in seventeen days. $100 million domestic is well-within the realm of possibility. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows part I has now grossed $292.2 million domestically, making it the third-biggest grosser of the series in America and the second-biggest worldwide grosser in the franchise ($943 million).

That's it for this weekend. Join us next weekend when Universal tries desperately to convince you that James Cameron directed the underwater 3D thriller Sanctum (he's one of nine producers) and Sony tries to convince you that The Roommate is totally different from Single White Female. Until then, check out my 2010 year-end wrap-up to see where the Oscar nominees fell in (Best, Worst, Overrated, Underrated, and Good Films You Missed).