BOX OFFICE WINNER: TOO CLOSE TO CALL

Going into the weekend, most analysts presumed that Disney/Pixar's Up would hang over the top of the box office for the second consecutive week. "Hang over" was indeed the operative term (minus the space) as Warner Bros.' The Hangover sold far more tickets than anyone had expected and waged a balloon race of sorts with the animated movie that was so close that the actual outcome won't be known until final sales figures are released later today (Monday). According to studio estimates on Sunday, Up took in around $44.2 million, well above predictions, while The Hangover took in about $1 million less, also above predictions. But some websites reported that avid word-of-mouth praise for Todd Phillips's R-rated comedy could have driven business up far higher than expected on Sunday and that it might have lifted the final results above those for the animated film. "Don't be surprised if the weekend actuals show an upset," wrote industry blogger Nikki Finke on her Deadline Hollywood Daily site, quoting a source as remarking, "It has a real shot at being first this weekend." While both films exceeded analysts' predictions, other films came in well below their expected results -- most particularly Universal's Land of the Lost, which was expected to be a loser -- but not the dismal megaflop that it turned out to be. The Will Ferrell starrer -- which reportedly cost more than $100 to produce -- earned just $19.5 million, well below the modest $30 million that had been predicted for it. (By contrast, The Hangover reportedly cost $35 million to produce.) The only other film to open wide was the Nia Vardalos (My Big Fat Greek Wedding) comedy My Life in Ruins, which took in a small, thin, weak $3.2 million. On the other hand, American Beauty director Sam Mendes's Away We Go opened in four theaters where it took in $132,260 -- giving it the highest per-screen average. It is due to expand on Friday. Overall, the box office was down 6 percent from the comparable weekend a year ago the second consecutive "down" weekend.

The top ten films for the weekend, according to studio estimates compiled by Box Office Mojo:

1. Up, $44.2 million; 2. The Hangover, $43.3 million; 3. Land of the Lost, $19.5 million; 4. Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian, $14.7 million; 5. Star Trek, $8.4 million; 6. Terminator Salvation, $8.2 million; 7. Drag Me to Hell, $7.3 million; 8. Angels & Demons, $6.5 million; 9. My Life in Ruins, $3.2 million; 10. Dance Flick, $2 million.

OVERSEAS AUDIENCES MAKE HITS OUT OF U.S. DUDS

Overseas, two films that are regarded domestically as disappointments -- Angels & Demons and Terminator Salvation -- were doing stand-out business over the weekend. Spreading into 70 countries, the latest Terminator edition added $67.5 million to its gross to bring its foreign total to $97.2 million. Angels & Demons continued to perform strongly overseas, drawing $22.3 million, bringing its overseas total to $292.9 million and putting it into position to cross the $300-million mark internationally this week. It is the year's biggest hit abroad. Combined with its North American gross, it has now earned $409 million worldwide.

MOVIE REVIEWS: MY LIFE IN RUINS

My Life in Ruins ended up pretty much in ruins over the weekend after it was clobbered by critics on Friday. "I didn't hate it so much as feel sorry for it," wrote Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun-Times. The film, which stars Nia Vardalos (as a Greek tour guide) in her first movie in five years, was described as "cloying and dated" by Claudia Puig in USA Today. Lou Lumenick in the New York Post called it "a desperate, crass and probably futile attempt at replicating" Vardalos's success with My Big Fat Greek Wedding. And Linda Barnard in the Toronto Star concluded: "If Vardalos was counting on My Life in Ruins as a comeback vehicle, she's taken the wrong tour bus."

CAMERON CLOSES DOOR TO PRESS

A conference of top producers held at the Sony Pictures lot in Culver City, CA over the weekend produced little hard news -- except that a session in which director James Cameron (Titanic) had been expected to discuss the making of his upcoming Avatar had been closed to the press. The New York Times's Michael Cieply said that he received a last-minute voice message from a Fox representative, who described Cameron's appearance as "a personal venture" and said that director did not wish to discuss his movie in front of the media at this point. Cieply described Avatar as a potential "game-changer" that may "change the way we think about movies." But, according to influential Internet blogger Nikki Finke, Cameron appeared to have little that was new to say about the movie. Finke had a "tech pal" give her notes about the Cameron's address, and it would appear that the director merely repeated what he has previously said -- that the film employs technology -- he apparently was not specific about the type -- that was not available to him after he wrote the Avatar script ten years ago. He also said that he expected that several thousand theaters will be capable of showing movies in 3D by the time Avatar is released on December 18.

Cinemark Movie Club