Jan 5, 2009

Entertainment - Aniston, Pitt reunited atop box office

Dean Goodman

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – "Marley & Me," a canine comedy starring Jennifer Aniston and Owen Wilson, led the North American box office for a second weekend on Sunday, becoming the first Christmas holiday picture to hit $100 million.

Twentieth Century Fox's adaptation of the bestselling John Grogan memoir about a lovable Labrador retriever earned $24.1 million during the three days beginning Friday, taking its 11-day haul to $106.5 million. It marks Aniston's second consecutive $100 million-plus movie, following 2006's "The Break-Up," which finished with $118.7 million.

The rankings of the top seven pictures were unchanged from last weekend as no new films opened in wide release.

The Adam Sandler family comedy "Bedtime Stories" was No. 2 with $20.3 million, and a total of $85.4 million. Aniston's former husband Brad Pitt followed with the aging-backward fable "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button," which earned $18.4 million, and a total of $79.0 million. As with "Marley & Me," they were released on Christmas Day.

A pair of Nazi-themed films opened in two theaters each. "Defiance," a Jewish resistance picture starring Daniel Craig, earned a strong $121,000 during the weekend, ahead of its national launch on January 16. Less promising was the Viggo Mortensen vehicle "Good," with just $9,300.


The focus is now shifting to Oscar hopefuls that are preparing to expand into national release as awards season heats up. Among them are actor/director Clint Eastwood's suburban drama "Gran Torino," which goes wide on Friday, and actor Mickey Rourke's comeback vehicle "The Wrestler," which will enter the national ring on January 23.

"Gran Torino," which has earned $9.7 million after playing in under 100 theaters for four weekends, will widen to about 2,700 theaters on Friday. Eastwood plays a grizzled widower who takes on neighborhood bullies.

"The Wrestler," now in 18 theaters, has earned $1.8 million after three weeks. Rourke plays "an old broken-down piece of meat" reliving his glory days in the ring.

Three pictures making early headway in the awards stakes are already doing strong business: "Benjamin Button" and "Doubt," which will each compete for five Golden Globe awards next Sunday, and four-time contender "Slumdog Millionaire."

The first major awards ceremony of the year takes place on Thursday, the Critics Choice Awards hosted by the Broadcast Film Critics Assn. "Benjamin Button" and Sean Penn's gay-rights drama "Milk" lead the field with eight nominations each.

"Doubt," an adaptation of a Pulitzer Prize-winning play about suspicions of child abuse in the Catholic church, rose two places to No. 8 with $5 million.

The Philip Seymour Hoffman-Meryl Streep vehicle is playing in 1,287 theaters, while the top three films are averaging about 3,300 theaters each. After four weeks, "Doubt" has earned $18.7 million, and will expand on January 16, six days before Oscar nominations are announced.

"Slumdog Millionaire," the tale of an impoverished youngster's successful run on the Indian version of "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire," jumped three places to No. 10 with $4.8 million. It is playing in 612 theaters, and has earned $28.8 million to date.

"Milk," in which Milk plays California's first openly gay elected official, has earned $17.1 million from 309 theaters after six weekends.

Rounding out the top five were Tom Cruise's Hitler-assassination thriller "Valkyrie" at No. 4 with $14.0 million and a total of $60.7 million since its Christmas Day release. Jim Carrey's former chart-topper "Yes Man" followed with $13.9 million and a 17-day haul of $79.4 million.

Twentieth Century Fox is a unit of unit of News Corp. "Slumdog Millionaire" and "The Wrestler" were released by News Corp's Fox Searchlight Pictures.

"Bedtime Stories" was released by Walt Disney Pictures, and "Doubt" by Miramax Films. Both are units of Walt Disney Co.

"The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" was released by Paramount Pictures, and "Defiance" by Paramount Vantage. Both are units of Viacom Inc.

"Valkyrie" was released by United Artists, a unit of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, which is privately held.

"Gran Torino" and "Yes Man" were released by Warner Bros, a unit of Time Warner Inc.

"Good" was released by closely held Thinkfilm. "Milk" was released by Focus Features, a unit of General Electric Co's NBC Universal.

(Reporting by Dean Goodman; editing by Philip Barbara)

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