February 8, 2009 / 7:03 PM / in 9 years

Moviegoers ready for romance, snub Oscar pictures

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - “He’s Just Not That Into You,” a comedy featuring Jennifer Aniston and Drew Barrymore, romanced the North American box office on Sunday, as overall ticket sales defied the recessionary gloom.

<p>Cast member Jennifer Aniston smiles at the premiere of the movie "He's Just Not That Into You" at the Grauman's Chinese theatre in Hollywood, California February 2, 2009. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni</p>

The new champ earned $27.5 million during the three days beginning on Friday, with women accounting for 80 percent of the audience, said its distributor, Warner Bros. Pictures.

The movie -- based on a book that was itself inspired by the TV show “Sex and the City” -- revolves around the lives and loves of various couples. Despite the A-list lineup -- which also included Ben Affleck and Scarlett Johannson -- critics largely disapproved.

Its success marks an early birthday present for former “Friends” star Aniston, who turns 40 on Wednesday and is still riding high with her recent box office champ “Marley & Me.”

Warner Bros., a unit of Time Warner Inc, was confident the film would hold up well next weekend, when business will be boosted by Valentine’s Day on Saturday.

Three other pictures opened in the top 10. The biggest disappointment was Steve Martin’s “The Pink Panther 2,” which came in at No. 4 with $12 million. The first film in Columbia Pictures’ revived comedy franchise opened with $20 million in 2006 and ended up with $82 million. Despite the sequel’s performance, Columbia’s worldwide distribution president Rory Bruer said he “wouldn’t bet against” a third film going into production.

DAKOTA DUO

Also new were Focus Features’ stop-motion animated entry “Coraline” at No. 3 with $16.3 million and Summit Entertainment’s sci-fi thriller “Push” at No. 6 with $10.2 million. Both did better than expected, and both feature 14-year-old actress Dakota Fanning.

Last weekend’s No. 1 film, 20th Century Fox’s Liam Neeson crime thriller “Taken,” slipped to No. 2 with $20.3 million; its 10-day total rose to $53.4 million.

The top Oscar contenders, meanwhile, have largely stalled. The only exception was “Slumdog Millionaire,” the favorite to take the best picture prize in two weeks. Fox Searchlight’s Indian game-show drama has earned $77.4 million after 13 weeks, boosted by a $7.4 million weekend. It fell one place to No. 7.

No other Oscar contenders made the top 10. The leading nominee, Paramount Pictures’ “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” with 13 mentions, has earned $120 million, and will struggle to match its reported $150 million budget.

As for the other best picture nominees, Focus Features’ “Milk” has made $25.3 million; Universal Pictures’ “Frost/Nixon,” $15.6 million; and the Weinstein Co’s “The Reader,” $16.1 million.

But moviegoers are lining up for other movies as evidenced by overall ticket sales, which have risen for six out of the past seven weekends when compared with year-ago tallies. Year-to-date revenues are up 19 percent, said tracking firm Media By Numbers.

The year’s top movie is also the most notable Oscar snub, Clint Eastwood’s “Gran Torino.” Warner Bros.’ urban drama has earned $120.3 million since opening in limited release in mid-December, and is on its way to $140 million, the studio said.

Columbia Pictures is a unit of Sony Corp SNE.N>. Focus Features and Universal Pictures are units of General Electric Co’s NBC Universal. Summit Entertainment and Weinstein Co are each privately held. Twentieth Century Fox and Fox Searchlight are units of News Corp. Paramount Pictures is a unit of Viacom Inc

(Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

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