I will never underestimate the box office power of Will Smith again. The indefatigable actor proved once more that he is the No. 1 movie star in the world, with an incredible $77.2 million opening for the sci-fi flick I Am Legend. Smith not only beat his own personal-best box office opening-day numbers ($52.2 million for 2004's I, Robot), but Legend eclipsed Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King to become the highest-grossing December opener ever.
And I guess success begets success, because even 20th Century Fox's stinker of a kid's movie, Alvin and the Chipmunks, bowed to a whopping $44.3 million. Either mom and dad finished all the Christmas shopping early or they were desperate for some escapist entertainment. Either way, the Jason Lee-starring flick was the beneficiary.
The success of the two new arrivals undermined New Line's The Golden Compass in its second weekend, causing the PG-rated fantasy film to drop a steep 65 percent. The film, which cost more than $200 million to make, has grossed slightly less than $41 million in the U.S. since it bowed ten days ago. Enjoy this one, kids, 'cause at this rate there's no way New Line is going to get behind a sequel.
Rounding out the top five is Disney's little engine Enchanted, which keeps on chugging after a month in theaters, with an additional $5.5 million and a total gross nearing the $100 million mark; and Miramax's No Country for Old Men, one of the few Oscar contenders that has performed solidly at the box office, earning another $2.8 million to put its total take at $33.4 million and counting.
In limited release, DreamWorks/Paramount Vantage bowed The Kite Runner on 35 screens, taking in $471,713. The film, based on the bestselling novel by Khaled Hosseini, received mixed reviews and was shut out of the recently announced Golden Globes nominations. It's likely the studios are going to have a hard time expanding this film.
Francis Ford Coppola's latest, Youth Without Youth, opened on six screens to very little box office action. It grossed only $27,800 for a weak per-screen average of $4,633.
Two Golden Globe darlings expanded their box office presence this week to some positive results. Fox Searchlight's Juno grossed $1.4 million on 40 screens for a strong per-screen average of $35,686. The indie flick from director Jason Reitman and screenwriter and new EW columnist Diablo Cody has now earned $2.2 million in its two-week limited run. Meanwhile, Focus Features' Atonement, wrapping up its second weekend in theaters, did some solid business too: On 117 screens, the film earned $1.8 million, putting its two-week total at close to $3 million. It will be interesting to see how these two films perform over the next couple of months. Atonement opened a bit larger then Juno and has thus far grossed more overall. Juno has boasted stronger per-screen averages and may in the end wind up on top. They are two very different movies, but the one thing they have in common is that they both attract women viewers. We'll keep an eye on this mini race over the weeks to come as the studios try different expansion strategies with these critical darlings.
All in all, the weekend was up an impressive 39 percent, compared to last year at this time when Sony opened another Will Smith movie The Pursuit of Happyness to an impressive $27 million. At times like these, it really seems that there is nothing this man can't do.
Want more? Check out EW's inside look at the making of I Am Legend