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Another 1-2 finish for penguins and Bond

Joshua Rich’s weekend wrap-up: ”Happy Feet” and ”Casino Royale” are tops for a third consecutive weekend, while new releases fail to make a mark

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Continuing one of the year’s most interesting and unexpected tandem runs at the box office, Happy Feet and Casino Royale finished side by side atop the chart for the third consecutive weekend, with the dancing penguins once again beating James Bond by a beak. According to Sunday’s estimates, the talking animals earned $17 mil at No. 1, while 007 grossed $15.1 mil in second place.

The films’ respective three-week domestic totals now stand at $121 mil and $115.9 mil, and though this is sure to be their last weekend of theatrical domination (Apocalypto, The Holiday, and Blood Diamond all should unseat them starting next Friday), it’s just a matter of days before they pass Mission: Impossible III and its $133.5 mil overall gross to move into the year’s top 10. Also on the milestone/trivia front, Happy Feet has joined Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest in the elite club of 2006 releases to finish at No. 1 for three consecutive weeks, while Casino Royale is following in the footsteps of Over the Hedge and The Devil Wears Prada as the year’s only $100 mil-plus earners not to win a weekend (which is just freak luck, really, because even The Covenant was No. 1 when it came out).

For the second straight frame, the titanic twosome was followed close behind by Denzel Washington’s brain teaser Déjà Vu, which dropped jaws — and a decent 46 percent — to finish with $11 mil at No. 3. Fellow holdover Deck the Halls was a little further back at No. 5, having made $6.7 mil on a 45 percent decline.

To be sure, the weekend after Thanksgiving weekend usually is a slow one at the multiplex, I guess because people are too busy shopping and too stuffed from all the movies they consumed the week before. But let’s hope that next week’s freshman class really does take care of business. Because the current lot certainly didn’t.

The Nativity Story (No. 4) was the best of the newbies, earning $8 mil on 3,083 screens. The one glimmer of gold here is the A- CinemaScore rating that audiences gave this story of the baby Jesus. But if its $2,603 per-theater average is any barometer of its box office future, we won’t hear of The Nativity Story again. Same goes for Turistas (No. 8 with $3.5 mil) and National Lampoon’s Van Wilder 2: The Rise of Taj (No. 10 with $2.3 mil). Of course, that flick now has a date with the stoner-comedy section of the local video store, where it should turn a profit. Even Morgan Freeman’s indie comedy 10 Items or Less, which Thinkfilm released in 15 locations, failed to make a mark, earning just $40,150, for an average of $2,677.

But don’t be fooled: This sluggish weekend actually was up 8.5 percent from an even slower frame last year, says Police fan (and box office expert) Paul Dergarabedian at his new firm, Media By Numbers. (One, two, three… it’s as easy to learn as your ABC… ah, great song.)