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''21'' hits the box office jackpot

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Jim Sturgess, Kevin Spacey, ...

It must have been in the cards. The blackjack drama 21 overcame big odds at the box office to win the weekend race and unseat formidable two-time champion Dr. Seuss’ Horton Hears a Who!

Kate Bosworth and Jim Sturgess’ young-skewing gambling saga grossed $23.7 million, according to Sunday’s estimates. And let’s just say that it’s a good thing I didn’t put any real money on my picks this week — the true-story literary adaptation’s take far exceeded my prediction, although the sum was generally in line with industry expectations. Excepting Superman Returns‘ $52.5 mil debut, this is the biggest opening for both Bosworth and costar Kevin Spacey; the same goes for Laurence Fishburne, whose previous-best premieres include only those for Matrix and Mission: Impossible franchise flicks.

Credit goes to 21‘s slick, seemingly ubiquitous marketing campaign and some audience fatigue with the family film that had been filling theaters for weeks — at least among older men, who comprised a large portion of this movie’s ticket buyers. But, considering 21‘s merely decent B+ CinemaScore grade, will all those guys stick around next weekend? That’s something I’d rather not have to wager on.

Falling to No. 2, then, was said family film, Dr. Seuss’ Horton Hears a Who! Though finally bumped out of the top spot, the animated adaptation added a hefty $17.4 mil to its three-week total, which now stands at $117.3 mil. Superhero Movie (No. 3) was next with $9.5 mil. The spoof comedy struggled to live up to financial projections (or, well, at least mine), a fact you can pin in part on its poor C+ CinemaScore from a mostly young-male crowd. Coming in at No. 4 was Tyler Perry’s Meet the Browns, with $7.8 mil, a steep 61 percent drop from its big debut (and well off from the typical $11 mil-plus gross for most Perry films in their second weekends). And holdover Drillbit Taylor rounded out the top five with a $5.8 mil take.

As such, there simply wasn’t enough room in the marketplace for two new movies with high hopes. The youth-oriented Iraq-veteran tale Stop-Loss (No. 8) earned a weak $4.5 mil, despite a hot cast and generally positive reviews from critics. And Run Fat Boy Run, the romantic comedy starring Simon Pegg and directed by David Schwimmer stumbled badly, grossing just $2.4 mil.

Overall, this collection of mostly poorly playing new movies led to a sharp 17 percent decline in the total box office from the same frame a year ago (when Blades of Glory skated to gold with $33 mil). But Hollywood shouldn’t fret: The just-ending first quarter of 2008 at the domestic box office was up 1 percent over the first three months of 2007 — and, besides, there’ll be time enough for counting when the dealing’s done.

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