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''National Treasure'' three-peats at No. 1

Meanwhile, a trio of holdovers are in a dead heat for second place, and ”One Missed Call” performs better than expected

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National Treasure: Book of Secrets, Diane Kruger, ...

The calendar may look wee bit different, but much remained the same at the box office on the first weekend of 2008, as National Treasure: Book of Secrets led a still-strong crop of holdovers to multiplex riches. At the same time, however, the lone major new release, One Missed Call, elbowed its way into the crowded field in impressive fashion.

According to Sunday’s estimates, Nicolas Cage’s adventure sequel dug up another $20.2 mil to win its third consecutive weekend and bring its domestic sum to $171 mil. (You’ll recall that its predecessor, 2004’s National Treasure, grossed $173 mil domestically.) NT:BOS is the first movie since Disturbia to make like Pat Riley and three-peat at No. 1. Following it in short order were a trio of films locked in a virtual dead-heat tie for second place — I Am Legend ($16.4 mil), indie sensation Juno (which doubled its theater count and grossed $16.2 mil, an increase of 53 percent over last weekend; having barely played wide, it has already earned $52 mil), and Alvin and the Chipmunks ($16 mil). Monday’s final numbers will iron out the exact order of finish.

But the week’s big news — and biggest surprise, if you ask me — came at No. 5. Sure, it’s a ranking not usually reserved for movies that have much to boast about, but One Missed Call happens to qualify. The thriller, a remake of a 2004 Japanese horror picture, brought in $13.5 mil over the weekend, a total substantially better than what most box office pundits had predicted. Better still, the film appears to have succeeded where other recent horror remakes (like The Hitcher, The Invasion, and The Hills Have Eyes 2) have failed.

Now, is One Missed Call an unmitigated hit? No. It’s too early to tell (its CinemaScore grade from audiences, after all, was a deadly D). And believe me: I still feel kinda sorry for its better-than-this stars, Shannyn Sossamon and Edward Burns. But my point here is that this is a happy day for the movie at hand and also for the fright-flick genre as a whole, which seemed to be dead as a headless ax murderer sometime last summer but now may be showing signs of life. So hey, good on ya, horror movies!

The rest of the box office played out as anticipated, with awards-season favorites like Charlie Wilson’s War (No. 6 with $8.2 mil), Atonement (No. 10 with $5.1 mil, in 583 locations), and There Will Be Blood (which averaged $26,215 in a slightly expanded 51 venues) continuing to thrive. Accordingly, the overall box office was up nearly 6 percent from the first weekend of 2007 — yet another sign that the new year seems to have started off swell.

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