CROWDED MARQUEES; NEAR-EMPTY THEATERS

Studios blamed inclement weather for the box office nosedive over the weekend. Ticket sales were down 44 percent from last weekend, as the top film, the comedy Yes Man, opened with just $18.2 million, the lowest opening gross ever for a Jim Carrey comedy. The movie had been expected to earn $25-30 million. The Will Smith drama Seven Pounds came in second with $16 million, a low for Smith, too. It had been expected to earn $22-27 million. But if cold weather, which covered most of the nation, was responsible for cutting attendance for the wide releases, there was no explanation for the solid performances of some of the specialty films, which managed to fill the small number of theaters in which they were screened. Danny Boyle's Slumdog Millionaire, which is on many critics' lists as best film of the year, took in more on a per-theater basis -- $5,348 -- than any other film in the top ten, winding up with $3.15 million to place eighth. The Wrestler, starring Mickey Rourke, opened with $209,474 from just four theaters in New York and Los Angeles, averaging $52,369 per theater. Clint Eastwood's Gran Torino grossed an estimated $468,000 in 19 theaters, for an average of $24,632 per theater. By contrast, Yes Man, which screened in 3,434 theaters, averaged just $5,288 per theater.

The top ten films for the weekend, according to studio estimates compiled by Media by Numbers:

1. Yes Man, $18.2 million; 2. Seven Pounds, $16 million; 3. The Tale of Despereaux, $10.5 million; 4. The Day the Earth Stood Still, $10.2 million; 5. Four Christmases, $7.7 million; 6. Twilight, $5.2 million; 7. Bolt, $4.3 million; 8. Slumdog Millionaire, $3.2 million; 9. Australia, $2.3 million; 10. Quantum of Solace, $2.2 million.

MOVIE REVIEWS: THE TALE OF DESPEREAUX

The computer-animated feature The Tale of Despereaux, voiced by Dustin Hoffman and Matthew Broderick, came in at the lower end of expectations with $10.5 million, to capture what there was of the family audience. The film had received mostly so-so reviews from major critics, including the New York Times's Manohla Dargis, who called it a "pleasantly immersive, beautifully animated, occasionally sleepy tale." Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun-Times, while remarking that it "is one of the most beautifully drawn animated films I've ever seen," said that he was "not quite so thrilled by the story." Claudia Puig in USA Today echoed those sentiments, writing, "The animation is handsomely rendered, but the story ... meanders." In the Los Angeles Times, Sheri Linden wrote, "The focus on hurt and anger is admirable, but Gary Ross' script too often feels like a clunky lesson in character motivation." But Kyle Smith in the New York Post appeared quite taken with the tale, which he said, "stands out among recent animated features for its lack of jokiness ... its stately air, its timelessness, its bruised souls and damaged hopes. ... It works like a beloved fairy tale."

WEATHER DOESN'T FRIGHTEN OFF EUROPEAN MOVIEGOERS

It was cold at the European box office over the weekend, too, but Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa gave it some global warming as it took in $33.5 million in 56 countries, according to Daily Variety. The Day the Earth Stood Still came in second with a respectable $21 million. Yes Man opened in just 653 theaters in six countries with $3.5 million.

STREEP: MALE MOVIE EXECS DON'T UNDERSTAND FEMALE POWER

Meryl Streep has accused film executives of overlooking female moviegoers while narrowing their target to young males. In an interview with the website Collider.com, Streep said that Universal Studios executives were surprised by the enormous box-office success of Mamma Mia! in which she stars. "Why were they surprised?" she asked rhetorically. "Because they're all men! Not that there is anything wrong with it. It just puts certain blinders on." The film, which has earned $567 million at the worldwide box office, ranks second only to The Dark Knight ($996 million) among the top-grossing movies of the year. Streep told Collider that the success was "very gratifying" to her "because it's so hard to get enough financing" for films of that sort. "I mean, the budget for that musical would have fit into the props budget for any Matrix film or, you know, Hellboy."Hellboy II. also released by Universal this year, grossed $152 million worldwide. "[Mamma Mia! so outdid Hellboy at the box office," Streep remarked, "and you just can't get [Universal executives] to understand this. It will pay you back." Asked about a possible sequel to Mamma Mia!, Streep shot back, "Now! Now! Now!" and added that "of course" she would be interested in reprising her role.