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''Apocalypto'' is No. 1

Weekend wrap-up: No apocalyptic end for Mel Gibson, as his latest movie tops the box office, although on a low-profit weekend

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Apocalypto: Andrew Cooper

It may be Sunday, but a handful of questions still remain after another slow weekend at the box office, foremost among them, Who won? Three films — new releases Apocalypto and The Holiday, and fourth-week holdover/three-time champ Happy Feet — stand side by side by side at the top of the chart, with a mere $1.5 million separating them. Based on today’s early estimates, Mel Gibson’s Mayan epic Apocalypto has a slight lead, with $14.2 mil at No. 1, while Nancy Meyers’ romantic comedy The Holiday (No. 2) earned $13.5 mil and those freakin’ dancing penguins (No. 3) brought in $12.7 mil. But the rankings could easily change when final figures are released Monday.

That said, Mel and the folks at Disney should be pretty pleased with the results. Sure, their violent period chase flick faced slight competition (if things don’t change, it’ll have the lowest weekend-winning gross since The Covenant earned $8.9 mil back in the doldrums of early September), but, hey, it didn’t flop. And, given all the controversy that preceded it — as well as, you know, its general weirdness — that was a legitimate concern. Still, any major boasting from the studio shouldn’t be swallowed whole. While critics generally liked the movie, audiences gave Apocalypto a solid-though-not-stellar B+ CinemaScore review. As expected, male ticket buyers outnumbered females three-to-two, but a bit surprising was the fact that it skewed old: Three-quarters of the R-rated movie’s crowd was over age 25, and nearly one quarter was over age 50. Certainly, most of the folks who spent $83.8 mil on The Passion of the Christ when it opened almost three years ago didn’t show up this time, but 52 percent of viewers reported that their main reason for going to this movie was, in fact, that they’re fans of the director. In other words, Mel definitely hasn’t lost his money-earning mojo.

But what does all this mean? More questions! Was Apocalypto‘s good gross simply the result of first-weekend curiosity? Will men, a typically fickle crowd, continue to buy tickets? Does that majority-grownup audience portend long legs at the box office? How much credit do Latino communities get, and will they keep coming? Tune in next week.

Moving on, Casino Royale earned $8.8 mil at No. 4, on a small 42 percent decline, and its consistency (especially without having won a weekend) is admirable. The roughly $150 mil-budgeted film has, in one month, earned well over $300 mil worldwide. Domestically, its $128.9 mil total now places it as the second-highest-grossing 007 flick ever, after my man Pierce Brosnan’s last outing, Die Another Day, which topped out at $160.9 mil four years ago. Blood Diamond rounded out the top five with a slightly soft $8.5 mil, or a so-so $4,458 per-theater average. That’s well behind star Leonardo DiCaprio’s $26.9 mil opening for The Departed earlier this fall. Too, director Ed Zwick scored a $24.3 mil bow for his previous release, 2003’s Tom Cruise epic The Last Samurai (which, to be fair, played in 1,000 more venues). So will this worthy film become a box office hit? Probably not. Can it still be expected to contend for Oscars? I’ll leave that as an optimistic maybe for the time being (Blood Diamond‘s A- CinemaScore offers a glimmer of promise.) One thing I can say for sure is that if you asked those same questions of No. 6 Unaccompanied Minors ($6.2 mil), the answers would be a resounding no and another resounding no.

That would also be my answer if you asked me whether it was an impressive weekend, money-wise, overall. According to Paul at Media By Numbers (a.k.a. the Felix Leiter of film figures) we were down 22 percent from a year ago, when The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe bowed big. Better luck next time, I guess.

Oh, but before then, a quick shout out to my best and only friend, Aaron. He took a moment out of mourning the fact that an Ohio State student-athlete just won the Heisman Trophy to note that I fouled up on Friday, when I said that Mayan is a ”dead” language; it’s not, and I stand corrected. Now, how do you say Go Blue! in Yukatek?