01/23/2011 01:52 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Weekend Box Office: Natalie Portman and Ashton Kutcher Top Charts With No Strings Attached

As the lone new wide-release of the weekend, the Ivan Reitman romantic-comedy, No Strings Attached, debuted with $20.3 million. The $25 million picture was a solid win for both Natalie Portman and Ashton Kutcher. Portman probably deserves credit, as this was the first mainstream project to capitalize on her Black Swan press, as well as her new unfortunate role as a tabloid darling (re: surprise engagement + pregnancy = no escape). But the $20 million opening falls right in Ashton Kutcher's median average when dealing with commercial fare such as this (What Happens in Vegas, Guess Who, etc). Out of fifteen wide-release openers, seven of them opened between $17 and $23 million. Killers, with $15 million, was just as much an anomaly on his box office filmography as Valentine's Day (where, ensemble cast aside, he and Jennifer Garner were the leads) opening with $56 million. Journalists may unfairly tag him as a flop machine, and audiences may say they hate him, but as he's not making a $70 million spy comedy, Kutcher is a reliable draw for reasonably-budgeted pictures such as this one

Comparably, this opening is Natalie Portman's second biggest ever outside of the Star Wars franchise. V For Vendetta pulled in $25 million five years ago, and the next highest is the $9.6 million opening for Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium (which is actually pretty good, thanks to a terrifically warm supporting turn by Jason Bateman). This may indeed be the start of her career as a genuine box office draw (Black Swan is already her biggest-grossing non-Star Wars picture ever), but that remains to be seen. Her next theatrical release is a small IFC-distributed picture, The Other Woman. The next big test will be Your Highness (red-band trailer), opening on April 8th, and then Thor (trailer) on May 6th, which will likely open or not open regardless of Portman.

It's also worth nothing that this is Ivan Reitman's biggest opening weekend in 22 years, after Ghostbusters II, which actually set the record for opening weekend with $29 million in June 1989... if only for a single week. And, in equally useless stats, Cary Elwes is BACK! This is his second $20 million+ opener in just under three months (after his 'buzz'-building supporting turn in Saw 3D)! Yes, I'm being sarcastic, but I'm always happy to see Elwes steadily working. Point being, the adult romantic comedy is not dead in the least, it just shouldn't cost $70 million (The Dilemma) or $120 million (How Do You Know).

There were only two other notable releases, both in respective limited debuts. Peter Weir's epic drama The Way Back, opened in 650 screens with just $1.4 million. The escape adventure starring Collin Ferrel, Ed Harris, Saoirse Ronan (who has a franchise of her own in April with Hanna), Mark Strong, and Jim Sturgess (remember when he was the next big thing just two years ago?) never had a chance, as it is long and brooding, with absolutely no awards heat and limited critical fuss attached to it. Weinstein Company finally debuted The Company Men into 106 theaters this weekend, after pulling it from the 2010 schedule to avoid competition with more surefire Oscar contenders. The recession drama with Ben Affleck, Kevin Costner, Tommy Lee Jones, and Chris Cooper grossed just $767,000 for a mediocre $7,000 per-screen average. It's a shame, as I remember a time when a drama starring any two of those actors would be a major wide release...

For the rest of the weekend's box office, including holdovers and Oscar contenders, read the rest of this article at Mendelson's Memos.