“Gnomeo & Juliet” Wins Box Office On Oscar Weekend

Wherefore art thou, Gnomeo? Atop the box office, that's where.

Walt Disney's "Gnomeo&Juliet," an animated 3-D twist on "Romeo and Juliet," took in $14.2 million in its third week of release, leading the box office on Oscar weekend, according to studio estimates Sunday. In a lighthearted, G-rated version of the Shakespeare drama, the film uses garden gnomes in roles usually reserved for heavyweights of the stage.

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It was a surprising upset win for "Gnomeo," which bested underperforming debuts from Owen Wilson and Nic Cage.

The Farrelly brothers' R-rated comedy "Hall Pass" earned $13.4 million for Warner Bros. Cage's 3-D actionfilm "Drive Angry" took in just $5.1 million for Summit Entertainment.

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The Liam Neeson thriller "Unknown" earned $12.4 million in its second weekend of release, bringing its cumulative total to a solid $42.8 million for Warner Bros.

In its third week of release, Paramount's 3-D Justin Bieber concert documentary, "Justin Bieber: Never Say Never," took in $9.2 million. To boost repeat business from die-hard Bieber fans, the film was re-edited by director Jon Chu in a "fan cut," made using suggestions from the teen pop star's rabid following.

But the weekend belonged to "Gnomeo," which didn't take no. 1 until this weekend. "Gnomeo," whose lead characters are voiced by James McAvoy and Emily Blunt, has now earned a total of $75.1 million.

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"It is one of those wonderful little benefits that you don't see coming," said Chuck Viane, head of distribution at Disney.

Viane credited the unlikely success of the film to good word-of-mouth, the lack of family film competition in the marketplace and that a G-rated film built on afternoon moviegoing need worry less about audiences staying home Sunday night for the Academy Awards.

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"When most people are sitting down to watch the Oscars, we will have had the vast majority of our business," said Viane.

Academy Awards weekend is historically a weak moviegoing time, though some moviegoers use the chance to catch up on Oscar-nominated films still in theaters. The best picture favorite "The King's Speech," from the Weinstein Co., saw its grosses jump 17 percent over last weekend's. It added $7.6 million in its 14th week of release to boost its total to $114.5 million.

Results were poor for Cage's "Drive Angry," which follows the weak debut of his "Season of the Witch" in January. That film opened to $10.6 million. The heavily promoted "Hall Pass," which stars Wilson and Jason Sudeikis, also underperformed.

"It's a tough weekend because you don't really have a full Sunday," said Dan Fellman, head of distribution at Warner Bros. "It's very difficult to project on Academy Sunday."

Hollywood.com analyst Paul Dergarabedian, however, notes: "Kids don't care about the Oscars. They just want to go to the movies."

Though the unexpected success of "Gnomeo" is good for the moviegoing business, it was still a down weekend for Hollywood, with the total box-office less than the corresponding weekend last year. That has been a common theme in 2011. Grosses are down 21 percent from last year.

"As the industry celebrates its best of last year, we're definitely still in this box-office malaise," said Dergarabedian.

Estimated ticket sales for Friday through Sunday at U.S. and Canadian theaters, according to Hollywood.com. Final figures will be released Tuesday.

1. "Gnomeo&Juliet," $14.2 million.

2. "Hall Pass," $13.4 million.

3. "Unknown," $12.4 million.

4. "Just Go With It," $11.1 million.

5. "I Am Number Four," $11 million.

6. "Justin Bieber: Never Say Never," $9.2 million.

7. "The King's Speech," $7.6 million.

8. "Big Mommas: Like Father, Like Son," $7.6 million.

9. "Drive Angry," $5.1 million.

10. "True Grit," $1.9 million.

Copyright 2011 by Associated Press. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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