Sony Pictures Imageworks
Joshua Rich
March 01, 2007 AT 05:00 AM EST

With so much noise coming from the Academy Awards this weekend, it was a relatively quiet few days at the box office. Ghost Rider repeated at No. 1, beating out a slew of newcomers. The Nicolas Cage action movie grossed a soft $19.7 million in its second week, according to Sunday’s estimates, a sizable 57 percent drop from its record-breaking opening.

But that was still enough for it to triumph over Jim Carrey’s R-rated thriller The Number 23 (No. 2), which came in well below predictions, earning just $15.1 mil in 2,759 theaters — a weak debut average of $5,476 per screen. Looking on the bright side, this is Carrey’s second-best opening ever for an R-rated movie (Me, Myself & Irene bowed with $24.2 mil back in 2000). Speaking more realistically, however, he hasn’t starred in many R-rated films, and, considering that this is one of his worst wide-release premieres ever (going all the way back to 1994’s Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, only four of his vehicles have started off worse), perhaps it is time to question whether Carrey’s popularity really is on the decline.

As expected, the kiddie flick Bridge to Terabithia (No. 3) held strong, dropping just 40 percent to gross $13.6 mil. Thus, it easily passed the R-rated comedy Reno 911!: Miami, which brought in a slight $10.4 mil in fourth place. Partly to blame: weak reviews from critics (the TV adaptation scored a mere 49 out of 100 on and audiences (it earned a poor C+ CinemaScore review). Meanwhile, Norbit stayed strong at No. 5 with $9.7 mil; the Eddie Murphy farce’s three-week cumulative total is a healthy $74.7 mil.

Landing outside of the top five were a few new movies: The Billy Bob Thornton family film The Astronaut Farmer (No. 9) failed to launch, grossing just $4.5 million. The Michael Apted-directed indie period drama Amazing Grace earned a solid $4.3 mil in 791 theaters to round out the top 10. And the horror flick The Abandoned fell way down the chart with a gross of $817,000 — a scary average of just $817 in 1,000 locations.

But enough about these movies that we’ll never hear from again (in fact, their poor performances didn’t keep this from being the second consecutive ”up” weekend over last year, according to king of the red carpet Paul at Media by Numbers). A much more pressing question is: Where, pray tell, do tonight’s Oscar contenders stand in terms of total box office? Well, I’m glad you asked, because it’s a mixed report, for sure.

Among Best Picture nominees, The Departed is the leader by far, with $131.6 mil. Then there’s Little Miss Sunshine ($59.8 mil), The Queen ($52.9 mil), Babel ($33.8 mil), and Letters From Iwo Jima ($12.8 mil). All together, it’s a stronger lot than last year’s crop, which featured nary a $100-mil grosser. Still, considering that The Departed, Little Miss Sunshine, and Babel are already on DVD, tonight’s results shouldn’t have much of an impact on their final theatrical takes. Moreover, if Babel wins the Oscars’ top prize, as many are predicting, it may very well wind up the lowest-earning Best Picture winner of the past 30 years (it now stands more than $10 mil behind the movie that’s currently at the end of the line, 1987’s The Last Emperor, which made $44 mil).

Anyway, just a little food for thought while you pop your popcorn and set your TiVo for the big show. Oh, and hey, good luck in your Oscar pools — remember, everyone, this is supposed to be fun.

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