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''30 Days of Night'' tops scary weekend

”30 Days of Night” opens at No. 1, but debuting movies from Reese Witherspoon, Jake Gyllenhaal, and Halle Berry bomb big-time

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Josh Hartnett, 30 Days of Night
Kirsty Griffin

On a weekend filled with frightening news at the box office, the R-rated vampire flick 30 Days of Night, starring Josh Hartnett, scared away the competition to score an easy win.

According to Sunday’s estimates, the horror-comic adaptation grossed a moderate $16 million in 2,855 locations — not an especially impressive sum (its per-theater average was a weak $5,604), but enough. For Hartnett, 30 Days of Night was his first No. 1 opener since Sin City, which debuted with $29.1 mil two and a half years ago. And for the horror genre, it’s a solid start to the scary-cinema season (don’t forget, scaredy cats: Saw IV, the latest installment in the perennially popular franchise, opens next weekend).

The terrifying thing was, 30 Days of Night happened to be the only new movie (of a record eight wide openers) that fared particularly well. While holdovers Tyler Perry’s Why Did I Get Married? (No. 2 with $12.1 mil), The Game Plan (No. 3 with $8.1 mil), and Michael Clayton (No. 4 with $7.1 mil) all stayed strong on merely moderate declines from their previous-week earnings, only the drama Gone Baby Gone (No. 5) had anything remotely positive to boast about. The Ben Affleck-directed literary drama banked a so-so $6 mil from 1,713 theaters.

Even more horrifying was the sudden death of several other new releases. The sports spoof The Comebacks fumbled in sixth place with a mere $5.9 mil. Reese Witherspoon and Jake Gyllenhaal’s terrorism drama Rendition tanked with a pathetic $4.2 mil way back in ninth place (behind even a 3-D rerelease of Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas, which took in a nice $5.1 mil at No. 8). Proving that it is in fact possible to perform even worse than that, the Halle Berry/Benicio Del Toro weeper Things We Lost in the Fire brought in a bare-bottom $1.6 mil somewhere further down the chart. And all that the wide indie releases Sarah Landon and the Paranormal Hour and The Ten Commandments could manage to gross was about a half mil apiece.

Continuing the troubling trend, the heavily touted Joaquin Phoenix/Mark Ruffalo downer Reservation Road crashed in a limited platform debut, averaging a tiny $2,630 in 14 venues.

So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the overall box office was down a sizable 9 percent from the same weekend last year, making this the fifth consecutive ”down” weekend of the season; while total revenues in 2007 remain up more than 6 percent over 2006, this fall is actually off more than 6 percent from last autumn. And that, box office fans, certainly should send a tingle down your spine.