January 18, 2009 / 6:51 PM / in 9 years

Kevin James is top "Cop" with box office hit

<p>Actor Kevin James gestures from the pace car at the start of the Pepsi 400 NASCAR Nextel Cup Series race at the Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Florida July 7, 2007.Mark Wallheiser</p>

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Kevin James, the star of the sitcom "The King of Queens," is now the king of the North American box office, thanks to a surprisingly strong No. 1 opening for his feature headlining debut.

His family comedy "Paul Blart: Mall Cop" sold an estimated $33.8 million worth of tickets during the three days beginning January 16, distributor Columbia Pictures said on Sunday, helping boost overall ticket sales for a fourth consecutive weekend.

James plays a shopping-mall security guard who takes on a gang of high-tech thieves. He also co-wrote and co-produced the $26 million movie, which was roundly trashed by critics.

Last weekend's champ, Clint Eastwood's suburban drama "Gran Torino" slipped to No. 2 with $22.2 million, taking its total to $73.2 million. Distributor Warner Bros. Pictures expects the film to end up in the $130 million range.

Three new releases rounded out the top five, all with strong numbers: the horror film "My Bloody Valentine: 3D" at No. 3 with $21.9 million; "Notorious," a biopic about slain rapper Notorious B.I.G. at No. 4 with $21.5 million, and the kids comedy "Hotel for Dogs" at No. 5 with $17.7 million.

The top-10 boasted one other new entry, as well as a re-entry. After two weeks in limited release, James Bond star Daniel Craig's Nazi-resistance movie "Defiance" landed at No. 8 with a solid $9.2 million.

Awards favorite "Slumdog Millionaire" rebounded one place to No. 10 with $6.3 million, taking its total to $42.7 million. The Mumbai-set drama won four prizes at the Golden Globes last Sunday, and is expected to be a key contender when Oscar nominations are unveiled on Thursday.

HOLIDAY BOOST

With a slew of fresh movies catering to most demographics, and with the U.S. observing the Martin Luther King holiday on Monday, business was brisk. Total sales stood at $197 million, up 28 percent from the year-ago period, said tracking firm Media By Numbers.

Columbia, a unit of Sony Corp, predicted the total for "Paul Blart: Mall Cop" would rise to $40 million once sales for the Monday holiday were included. Going into the weekend, it had been hoping for a respectable four-day sum of $25 million.

"We knew it was going to do well," said Rory Bruer, Columbia's president of worldwide distribution. "Audiences just love Kevin James. He's like the everyman you want to have a beer with."

James, 43, is best known for his role as a portly delivery man in "The King of Queens," which now airs in syndication after wrapping a nine-year stint on CBS in 2007.

In his previous features, he played second fiddle to the likes of Will Smith ("Hitch") and Adam Sandler ("I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry"). Sandler's Happy Madison production company produced "Paul Blart." Steve Carr ("Daddy Day Care") directed.

Warner Bros is a unit of Time Warner Inc. "My Bloody Valentine: 3D" was released by Lionsgate, a unit of Lions Gate Entertainment Corp. "Notorious" and "Slumdog Millionaire" were released by Fox Searchlight, a unit of News Corp. "Hotel for Dogs" was released by Paramount Pictures and "Defiance" by Paramount Vantage. Both are units of Viacom Inc.

Editing by David Wiessler

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