Finally, a weekend to hooray about in Hollywood. After seven straight weekends of ticket sales below year-ago levels, box-office grosses came out on the plus side, led by an estimated $19.4 million for the Coen brothers' "Burn After Reading" and $18 million for Tyler Perry's "The Family That Preys."
"If we had done another down weekend, that would have been two months and people would have started to use the 's' word," said Paul Dergarabedian, president of Media by Numbers, a box-office tracking firm. "And in this town nobody wants to say slump."
"Burn After Reading" marks the biggest opening weekend ever for Joel and Ethan Coen, who snagged the Oscar last year for "No Country for Old Men."
"Better than our expectations," said Jack Foley, distribution head for Focus Films.
The Coens' biggest previous open was in 2004 for "The Ladykillers" with Tom Hanks, which had a $12.6-million premiere. It went on to tank, making $40 million domestically.
Foley said his studio had no fear of history repeating itself with "Burn After Reading."
"This film did not just play to the smart, Coenesque group that always comes out to see their movies," he said. "They have really expanded their base."
The dark spy comedy was no doubt helped by the teaming of Hollywood's sexiest male stars, George Clooney and Brad Pitt, to head the cast. And it generated 79% positive reviews among those tracked by the website Rotten Tomatoes.
Reviews didn't much figure into the success of the Tyler Perry film -- there weren't any, at least in the mainstream media. The distributor, Lionsgate, didn't screen the movie for the media before it opened.
But the film did well on its opening weekend, with an $8,705 average per theater -- about $1,000 more per theater than the Coen movie.
Writer-director-producer Perry has developed such a devoted following, especially among older African American women, that he doesn't need strong reviews for big grosses.
"The Tyler Perry brand pretty much guarantees a solid opening weekend," Dergarabedian said. "He's maybe one of the most constant and most bankable filmmakers out there."
"Righteous Kill," staring Robert De Niro and Al Pacino, overcame generally poor notices -- Rotten Tomatoes gave it a 23% positive rating -- to take third place with an estimated $16.5 million.
"That is probably better than expected," Dergarabedian said. "People still want to see De Niro and Pacino in the same film."
"The Women" got even worse reviews, with an 11% positive rating, but still managed a fourth-place showing with an estimated $10.1 million in sales.
The remake of a 1939 classic, with an all-female ensemble cast that included Meg Ryan and Annette Bening, gave the mini-studio Picturehouse its largest weekend gross ever.
"I think it shows that women really responded to the marketing of the film," Picturehouse President Bob Berney said.
"It's a capper to a strong summer for women's films."
But it was a bittersweet victory. "The Women" was the last film released under the Picturehouse banner. Parent firm Warner Bros. said in May that it was closing the division.
The top five was rounded out by "The House Bunny," a comedy that earned an estimated $4.3 million in its fourth week, with a drop-off of only 22% from the previous week.
"Tropic Thunder" came in sixth with an estimated $4.2 million in its fifth week. That put it over the $100-million mark in domestic sales.
The smash hit of the summer, "The Dark Knight," earned an estimated $4 million to bring its total to $517.7 million domestically.
Last week's top grosser, "Bangkok Dangerous," slipped to No. 8 with an estimated $2.4 million, a drop-off of 69%.
The new film "Towelhead," by writer-director Alan Ball, was in only four theaters but it averaged a healthy $13,250 per theater, according to estimates.
'Burn After Reading' fires up the box office
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