''Why Did I Get Married?'' a surprise No. 1 | EW.com

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''Why Did I Get Married?'' a surprise No. 1

Tyler Perry's ''Why Did I Get Married?'' elopes with the gold, while The Rock's ''Game Plan'' continues its strong run, neck-and-neck with ''Michael Clayton'' and ''We Own the Night''

It was the big surprise that we should have seen coming. Tyler Perry’s Why Did I Get Married? won the weekend box office in convincing fashion, grossing $21.5 mil, according to Sunday’s estimates. Meanwhile, a slew of high-profile movies featuring big stars like George Clooney, Mark Wahlberg, and Cate Blanchett, struggled to gain traction in what wound up being a very close race at the multiplex.

As I pointed out on Friday this weekend’s fight for No. 1 was anybody’s to win, with several similar movies opening in a similar number of locations. Right from the start, however, Perry’s PG-13-rated film took charge. It earned $7.7 mil on Friday, more than double its next closest competitor and more than half of what most prognosticators thought it would make over the whole three-day stretch. The game was over in the first period. How did that happen? Simple: Perry, who produced, wrote, directed, and starred in the film based on his play, has a much broader fan base than most people appreciated — enough to boost a movie to No. 1 even in the crowded fall marketplace. (His two previous first-place openers, Diary of a Mad Black Woman and Madea’s Family Reunion debuted at $21.9 mil and $30 mil, respectively, in the slower February season.) Cutting right to the chase, it’s clear now more than ever that Perry’s appeal goes beyond urban or African American crowds, because you just can’t pull off a victory as decisive as this without attracting folks from a diversity of demographics. Even critics are warming to the domestic dramedy auteur’s unique style: Why Did I Get Married? was easily the best reviewed of Perry’s feature releases to date.

Anyway, as my colleague Tim Stack’s terrific recent profile of Perry makes clear, the entertainer continues to be a victim of underestimation in the eyes of Hollywood (and those who cover ”the business”: yes, I stand guilty). Maybe we’ve finally learned our lesson. I sure have.

Regardless, thanks to its strong performance, Why Did I Get Married? avoided a massive pileup far behind it. Three films — The Game Plan ($11.5 mil), Michael Clayton ($11.01 mil), and We Own the Night ($11 mil) — were separated by a total of just $500,000. So close was their photo finish that we’ll have to wait until the final numbers are released on Monday before we know how they ranked. What we can say for sure now, though, is that this remains great news for The Rock’s Game Plan, which dropped a mere 31 percent and has banked $59.4 mil in three weeks. Conversely, Michael Clayton and We Own the Night have to be ruled disappointments. Neither star power (Clooney in Michael Clayton, and Wahlberg and Joaquin Phoenix in We Own the Night) nor stellar reviews (particularly for Michael Clayton) could propel either film to a higher position, and this poor turn of events may very well hurt the chances of all involved come awards time.

The same could be said, by the way, about Blanchett’s historical sequel Elizabeth: The Golden Age, which earned a paltry $6.2 mil in sixth place. That landed it one notch behind the two-week old comedy clunker The Heartbreak Kid (No. 5 with $7.4 mil). Rounding out the Top 10 were: The Kingdom (No. 7 with $4.6 mil), Across the Universe (No. 8 with $4 mil), Resident Evil: Extinction (No. 9 with $2.7 mil), and The Seeker: The Dark Is Rising (No. 10 with $2.2 mil).

The success of several smaller releases was similarly so-so. Ryan Gosling’s kooky comedy Lars and the Real Girl did decently, earning $85,000 in seven locations for a $12,143 per-theater average, and Control, photographer Anton Corbijn’s biopic of Joy Division frontman Ian Curtis, brought in $26,500 in one venue. But the baseball drama The Final Season struck out with a paltry $665,000 in 1,011 theaters (that’s an embarrassing $658 average), and Michael Caine and Jude Law’s Sleuth stumbled with a $5,566 average in nine places.

It should come as no surprise, then, that the total box office was down 9 percent from the same frame a year ago. But while many in Hollywood might want to spend the rest of the weekend staring at their navels and wondering what went wrong, at least one guy, Tyler Perry, can once again hold his head high.