As it turns out, the movie studios haven't needed those late-night talk shows to promote their newest releases, after all. For the second weekend in a row, the box office produced solid results, soaring 36 percent above those for the comparable weekend a year ago. It was led by National Treasure: Book of Secrets, which recorded an estimated $45.5 million for the first three days of a five-day holiday weekend -- 30 percent more than the original National Treasureearned when it opened with $35.1 million in 2004. Last week's No. 1 and No. 2 films finished No. 2 and No. 3, with the Will Smith starrer I Am Legend producing $34 million and Alvin and the Chipmunks,$29 million. Charlie Wilson's Wardebuted in fourth place with a soft $9.6 million, a veritable bomb for a movie starring Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts, directed by Mike Nichols, and written by Aaron Sorkin. The film received all-over-the-place reviews. Although it's supposedly based on a true story, Wall Street Journalcritic Joe Morgenstern wrote, "I didn't believe a word of it," while Claudia Puig in USA Todaydescribed it as "an eye-opening and sassy tale." It barely edged out Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, starring Johnny Depp, a veritable blockbuster for a non-stop singing musical -- and especially one showing on only 1,250 screens. Also surprising was the performance of P.S. I Love You, which was savaged by critics but nevertheless managed to draw $6.5 million in ticket sales. Its audience turned out to be 70 percent female. (They perhaps followed New York Postcritic Lou Lumenick's advice: "Ladies, love means never having to force your significant other to sit through something as sloppy as P.S. I Love You.") Also surprising -- for the opposite reason -- was the poor performance of Judd Apatow's Walk Hard,which received mostly good reviews and strong studio promotion but tanked with just $6.5 million.

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

1. National Treasure: Book of Secrets, $45.5 million; 2.I Am Legend, $34.2 million; 3.Alvin and the Chipmunks, $29 million; 4. Charlie Wilson's War, $9.6 million; 5.Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, $9.35 million; 6. P.S. I Love You, $6.5 million; 7. Enchanted, $4.15 million; 8. Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story, $4.1 million; 9. The Golden Compass, $4 million; 10. Juno, $3.4 million.


Jessica Simpson may also have set a record at the box office. Her latest film, Blonde Ambition,co-starring Luke Wilson, took in just $1,190 over the weekend. True, it was shown in only eight Texas theaters, but that's still an average of less than $50 per theater per day, meaning about six people showed up to see it in each location each day. On his TV Guide Online blog, film critic Ken Fox asked, "Doesn't someone like Jessica Simpson have more than 48 friends? What about that big Texas family of hers? ... Just how bad is this thing anyway?"


In the latest round of awards presentations, the St. Louis Gateway Film Critics Association named No Country for Old Men best feature of 2007 and the film's wrier-directors, the Coen brothers, best director. It also named Jason Reitman's Junobest comedy. No Countryand the Coen brothers also nabbed the top awards from the Florida Film Critics Circle and the Utah Film Critics Association.


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