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''National Treasure'' gets richer

Nicolas Cage sequel is No. 1 again, leading a strong weekend at the box office for holdovers. Meanwhile, ”There Will Be Blood” makes some noise in limited release

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Diane Kruger, Nicolas Cage, ...
Robert Zuckerman

On the final weekend of the year, National Treasure: Book of Secrets continued to uncover a bounty of box-office riches, beating out a slew of solid holdovers (I’m talking about you, Alvin and Will Smith) and upstart indies (There Will Be Bloodwhoa!) to finish a strong No. 1 for the second consecutive week.

Nicolas Cage’s family-friendly adventure sequel remained in the top spot by grossing $35.6 mil during the Friday-to-Sunday period. That brought its 10-day sum to an impressive $124 mil, making it the 27th release of 2007 to cross the century mark. For Cage, the blockbuster returns provided a sweet bookend to a comeback year that began with his $115.8 mil smash Ghost Rider. Prior to that, his previous hit release was 2004’s National Treasure, which earned $173 mil domestically — a total that Book of Secrets now seems almost certain to pass. In other words: Get ready for Part 3, people!

As expected, there was still plenty of good cheer left to go around on this post-Christmas weekend, as most releases either gained at the box office or suffered minimal declines — exactly what you’d expect for the middle of a two-week stretch when many Americans have been on vacation. (Indeed, the box office was up a substantial 14.3 percent over the same frame a year ago.) Alvin and the Chipmunks (No. 2) added $30 mil to its surprisingly huge haul, which now totals $142.4 mil. Will Smith’s I Am Legend (No. 3) scared up an additional $27.5 mil to come within a zombie’s bite of the $200 mil mark (it’s got $194.6 mil and counting). Charlie Wilson’s War (No. 4) rounded up $11.8 mil, a 22 percent increase. And after tripling its theater count, independent sensation Juno jumped into the top five with a rockin’ $10.3 mil tally.

Then again, while the holdovers were singing ”Jingle Bells” and “Auld Lang Syne,” the major Christmas Day openers struggled. Alien vs. Predator – Requiem (No. 6) fared best among the yuletide newbies, banking a decent $10.1 mil over the weekend. The Water Horse: Legend of the Deep grossed a soft $9.2 mil at No. 7, however, and Denzel Washington’s The Great Debaters disappointed with $6.3 mil at No. 11.

Among smaller releases, the Jack Nicholson dramedy The Bucket List averaged a nice $20,188 in 16 theaters, and the Guillermo del Toro-produced Spanish-language thriller The Orphanage scored a solid $12,118 average in 19 venues.

But the big winner was Paul Thomas Anderson’s historical epic There Will Be Blood, which banked a whopping $185,525 in just two theaters in New York and L.A. — a $92,763 average that ranks as one of the best ever. Combine said box office success with all the critical praise being heaped on the movie and its stars, Daniel Day-Lewis and Paul Dano, and There Will Be Blood appears to be moving into awards season with all the force of a gushing oil well. Happy new year, everyone!