"Marley & Me" top dog at busy Christmas box office

Sun Dec 28, 2008 4:27pm EST
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By Dean Goodman

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - It may have been a bleak Christmas for U.S. retailers but Hollywood enjoyed a bumper holiday as new films, led by the dog tale "Marley & Me" and awards contender "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button," drew throngs of moviegoers to theaters across North America.

"Marley & Me" sold an estimated $37 million worth of tickets during the traditional three-day weekend beginning on Friday, distributor 20th Century Fox said on Sunday. Jennifer Aniston and Owen Wilson star in the adaptation of a bestseller about a couple and their golden retriever.

The movie about "life, love and family" -- according to Fox senior vice president of domestic distribution Bert Livingston -- played strongly with audiences of all ages seeking feel-good entertainment.

As with the four other new releases, "Marley & Me" opened on Thursday and earned $14.7 million -- a new Christmas Day record.

The old tally, set in 2001 when "Ali" opened to $10.2 million, was also broken by the new Adam Sandler comedy "Bedtime Stories" and by "Benjamin Button," starring Aniston's ex-husband Brad Pitt.

Overall Christmas Day sales reached $75 million, according to tracking firm Media By Numbers, up about $10 million from last year.

Still, Hollywood is on course for a down year. With three days left, year-to-date sales are off about 1 percent at $9.5 billion, while the number of tickets sold has slid 5.2 percent, Media By Numbers said.

"Bedtime Stories" was No. 2 for the weekend with $28.1 million and its Christmas Day haul of $10.5 million drove its total to $38.6 million, said Walt Disney Pictures. Sandler plays a man whose bedtime stories come true in real life.   Continued...

<p>Cast member Jennifer Aniston attends the premiere of the movie "Marley &amp; Me" at the Mann Village theatre in Westwood, California, December 11, 2008. The movie opens in the U.S. on December 25. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni</p>