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LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Nicolas Cage's "National Treasure" sequel was the top draw at North American movie theaters for a third consecutive weekend, while a pregnant schoolgirl delivered another healthy box-office bundle.
According to studio estimates issued on Sunday, "National Treasure: Book of Secrets" earned $20.2 million in the three days beginning January 4, taking its three-week total to $171 million. The Walt Disney Co adventure is a day or two away from surpassing the $173 million total of 2004's "National Treasure" to become the biggest film of Cage's career. Internationally, the sequel has earned $100.6 million.
Three films vied for the No. 2 position, with Will Smith's sci-fi thriller "I Am Legend" ($16.4 million) narrowly beating the teen comedy "Juno" ($16.2 million) and the kiddie smash "Alvin and the Chipmunks ($16.0 million). Rankings could change when final data are issued on Monday.
Awards-season favorite "Juno" was up two places after accelerating its rollout across North America. Director Jason Reitman's acclaimed comedy stars Canadian actress Ellen Page as a pregnant teen who decides to place her baby for adoption. The Fox Searchlight Pictures release has earned $52 million after five weeks, having cost less than $10 million to make.
It almost doubled its theater count to 1,925 theaters -- a figure dwarfed by the 3,400-plus totals for the other movies in the top four -- and will expand to about 2,200 theaters next weekend, said Peter Rice, president of the News Corp-owned studio.
"Juno" will compete for six prizes on Monday at the Critics Choice Awards, a key barometer of Oscar success. In the event's 12 years, half of the best picture and acting winners have gone on to take the Oscar gold, along with three-quarters of the directing winners. Sean Penn's "Into the Wild" leads the Critics Choice contenders with seven nominations.
Former box-office champ "I Am Legend" was up one spot from last week and "Alvin and the Chipmunks" down two. Their respective hauls rose to $228.7 million and $176.7 million, after four weeks each.
"I Am Legend" was released by Time Warner Inc's Warner Bros. Pictures. "Alvin and the Chipmunks" was released by News Corp's Twentieth Century Fox.
The top-10 contained one new release, Warner Bros.' "One Missed Call," which opened at No. 5 with $13.5 million, exceeding industry projections of a debut in the single-digit range. Based on a cult Japanese horror, the film revolves around cell phone messages that relay their owners' future death cries.
Overall sales rose for the fourth consecutive weekend, according to box office analysis firm Media by Numbers. Ticket sales tallied $140 million, up almost six percent from the year-ago period, when "Night at the Museum" and Smith's "The Pursuit of Happyness" led the field.
Reporting by Dean Goodman; Editing by Bill Trott