Coens' "Burn After Reading" ignites box office

Sun Sep 14, 2008 5:14pm EDT
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By Dean Goodman

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - "Burn After Reading," a screwball spy comedy from Oscar-winning filmmakers Joel and Ethan Coen, fired up the weekend box office in North America on Sunday, helping overall sales rebound from the five-year low plumbed a week earlier.

"Burn," whose cast includes George Clooney, Brad Pitt and John Malkovich, opened at No. 1 after selling an estimated $19.4 million worth of tickets across the United States and Canada, distributor Focus Features said.

The three-day tally set a new record both for the Coens and for Focus, the arthouse arm of General Electric Co's NBC Universal unit. It also represents the first No. 1 for Focus. The brothers' previous best was "Ladykillers" with a $12.6 million opening in 2004.

Three other new releases followed, all within their respective studios' expectations: prolific filmmaker Tyler Perry's latest domestic saga "The Family That Preys" at No. 2 with $18 million; the Robert De Niro-Al Pacino cop drama "Righteous Kill" at No. 3 with $16.5 million; and a critically maligned remake of the 1939 distaff drama "The Women" at No. 4 with $10.1 million.

Critics were hardly more enthused about the other new releases, including "Burn After Reading," the Coens' first release since they won the best picture Oscar in February for the Texan drama "No Country For Old Men."


Pitt, sporting an impressive pompadour, plays a hyperactive gym instructor who tries to extort money from a sacked CIA analyst (Malkovich) whose sensitive memoirs he stumbles across when a computer disc is dropped by accident. Clooney plays a womanizing federal marshal.

Focus distribution president Jack Foley said the Coens' success with "No Country" combined with "the Brad factor" to put "Burn for Reading" over the top.   Continued...

<p>Ethan Cohen (L to R), Brad Pitt, Frances McDormand, Joel Cohen, Tilda Swinton and George Clooney pose at the red carpet of the Film Festival in Venice August 27, 2008. Pitt, Clooney and Swinton star in Ethan and Joel Coen's movie "Burn After Reading" which is opening this year's Venice Film Festival. REUTERS/Max Rossi</p>