January 2, 2008 / 12:04 AM / 10 years ago

'National Treasure' begins 2008 atop box office

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The Nicolas Cage adventure "National Treasure: Book of Secrets" began the new year as the top movie in North America, helping to send off 2007 on a high note.

According to studio estimates issued on Tuesday, the Walt Disney Co hit sequel sold $55.4 million worth of tickets during the five-day period beginning December 28.

Compared with the five-day Christmas period beginning December 21, the kids movie "Alvin and the Chipmunks" rose one place to No. 2 with $42.2 million, overtaking the Will Smith sci-fi thriller "I Am Legend," which earned $38 million.

The political comedy "Charlie Wilson's War" held steady at No. 4 with $20.5 million. The teen comedy "Juno" jumped four places to No. 5 with $15.7 million.

After 12 days, "National Treasure: Book of Secrets" has earned $143.8 million, and is hot on the trail of the $173 million total of its 2004 predecessor, "National Treasure," the biggest movie of Cage's career.

"Alvin and the Chipmunks," released by News Corp's 20th Century Fox, has earned $154.6 million after 19 days. In that same period, "I Am Legend" has tallied $205.1 million for Warner Bros. Pictures, a unit of Time Warner Inc.

The three movies combined to lift the box office out of a prolonged fall slump, when high-profile entries such as "Beowulf" and "The Golden Compass" failed to connect with moviegoers.

For the year (January 2, 2007 to January 1, 2008), overall sales rose 4.1 percent to a record $9.68 billion, according to box office analysis firm Media By Numbers. The previous high was $9.45 billion in 2004. But higher ticket prices drove the 2007 increase. The number of tickets sold was 1.42 billion, essentially unchanged from 2006. The modern-day record was 1.6 billion in 2002. Before the advent of television, the tally was much higher.

The new year looks promising for "Charlie Wilson's War" and "Juno," two movies that figure prominently among the nominees for the Golden Globe and Critics Choice awards, two closely watched barometers of Oscar recognition.

After a slow start, "Charlie Wilson's War" has picked up the pace, and has now earned $43.3 million after 12 days. The fact-based film stars Tom Hanks as an obscure Texas congressman who manages to funnel billions of taxpayer dollars to the Afghan rebels fighting the Soviets in the 1980s.

The film was released by Universal Pictures, a unit of General Electric Co's NBC Universal.

"Juno" was arguably the big star of the box office, since its $15.7 million tally was derived from just 1,014 theaters. The average theater count for the four movies ahead of it was about 3,400. The comedy, from News Corp.'s Fox Searchlight division, will expand to about 1,900 theaters on Friday. It has earned $31.1 million after four weeks. Canadian actress Ellen Page stars as a pregnant schoolgirl who decides to give up her baby for adoption.

Reuters

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