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LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Jim Carrey's new comedy "Yes Man" got the nod from moviegoers across North America, but brutal weather in key markets combined with holiday shopping distractions to hit overall ticket sales.
According to studio estimates issued on Sunday, "Yes Man" earned $18.2 million during its first three days, winning a closely watched duel with the Will Smith drama "Seven Pounds." The decidedly downbeat film opened to a lightweight $16 million, Smith's worst performance in seven years.
A third new entry, the mouse cartoon "The Tale of Despereaux," followed at No. 3 with $10.5 million. Last weekend's champion, the sci-fi remake "The Day the Earth Stood Still," fell to No. 4 with $10.2 million.
Ticket sales on the East Coast, Pacific Northwest and parts of the Midwest fell victim to a winter deluge of snow and ice. Boston, for example, is a top-10 market, but it plunged to the lower reaches of the top 25 on Friday, studio executives said.
The top 12 films grossed $83 million, essentially flat with last weekend but down 44 percent from the year-ago period, according to tracking firm Media By Numbers.
Warner Bros Pictures, which released "Yes Man," said the bad weather knocked about $2.5 million off the film's total. But the Time Warner Inc-owned studio hoped to make the money back in subsequent weeks.
Carrey plays a bank officer stuck in a personal and professional rut. After he attends a self-help seminar, he must say "yes" to all ideas and requests, leading to both comic and dramatic pitfalls. It cost in the $70 million range to make, said Dan Fellman, the studio's president of distribution.
The film is reminiscent of 1997's "Liar Liar," in which Carrey's mendacious character must tell the brutal truth.
"Yes Man" marks Carrey's best live-action opening since "Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events," which kicked off with $30 million in December 2004 on its way to a domestic haul of $118.6 million.
Critics were generally negative toward "Yes Man," which played mostly to moviegoers aged under 25 and earned good exit reviews, the studio said.
Reviews were largely hostile toward "Seven Pounds," in which Smith plays a despondent man who decides to redeem himself by committing random acts of kindness before making the ultimate sacrifice.
The $55 million film was released by Sony Corp-owned Columbia Pictures, which said it would have earned about $20 million if the weather had been better. It marks Smith's worst opening since "Ali," which entered the ring with $14.7 million in 2001.
The new film was directed by Italian filmmaker Gabriele Muccino, who previously worked with Smith on "The Pursuit of Happyness." That drama opened to $26.5 million two years ago, and finished with $163.6 million.
"The Tale of Despereaux," based on an award-winning children's book, revolves around a heroic mouse voiced by Matthew Broderick who falls in love with a human princess.
The Universal Pictures release cost about $60 million to make, a relative bargain for a cartoon. With most schools now out on vacation, the General Electric Co-owned studio was confident that business would stay strong.
"The Day the Earth Stood Still," which stars Keanu Reeves as an alien, has earned $48.6 million. It was released by News Corp's 20th Century Fox, which hopes it will reach $85 million.
Films vying for Oscar attention sold well in limited release. Among the top performers was "The Wrestler," which opened to a knockout $209,474 from a total of four theaters in New York and Los Angeles. The acclaimed film, considered a certainty to be among the contenders when nominations are announced on January 22, stars Mickey Rourke as a self-hating wrestler past his prime. It was released by News Corp's Fox Searchlight.
Reporting by Dean Goodman; editing by Vicki Allen