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Holiday box office: How the actors fared

How films starring Jennifer Aniston, Brad Pitt, Tom Cruise, and Will Smith performed and what the actors are doing next

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Too many films? Economic recession? Bah, humbug! Despite fears that those challenges would turn this year’s holiday box office into a moldy fruitcake — you know, an unappetizing glob of unnecessary indulgence — moviegoers spent $236 million on the top 10 films during the four-day Christmas weekend. Here’s how Hollywood’s biggest stars fared — and what’s in store for them next:

Jennifer Aniston After a two-year absence from the big screen, Aniston pawed her way to No. 1 with the family-friendly Marley & Me, which grossed $50.7 million and scored the biggest Christmas Day opening ever ($14.4 million). That bodes well for the actress’ much-debated appeal, especially since she handled most of the promotion. (Costar Owen Wilson did only limited press.) Marketers behind her next picture, February’s long-delayed ensemble comedy He’s Just Not That Into You, would be wise to tap into the Aniston heat. Ditto her two finished projects Traveling and Management, which are still without release dates. She’s also set to play a bail skipper opposite Gerard Butler’s bounty hunter in an untitled comedy slated to shoot in May.

Brad Pitt The actor has a shaky record when it comes to serious prestige pictures. Fawning reviews couldn’t push The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford past $3.9 million, and Babel topped out at $34.3 million despite multiple Oscar nominations. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, however, drummed up $38.7 million, impressive considering the two-hour, 45-minute running time. Whether he’ll fare as well playing an anti-Nazi hillbilly in Quentin Tarantino’s WWII adventure Inglourious Basterds (now shooting) is a tougher call. Audiences should be intrigued by the pairing — but how much? After Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez’s Grindhouse eked out a trifling $25 million, the director must be hoping for a big, fat return on Pitt’s star power.

Tom Cruise The creepy eye patch! The inconsistent accents! Valkyrie had a year-long uphill PR battle, but MGM/UA had the sense to market the WWII flick — about a plot to assassinate Hitler — as a good ol’ thriller. Its $29.5 million take is far from Cruise’s one-time openings, though it’s still solid, indicating that the image revamp he began with Tropic Thunder is working. It’ll be a while before we know for sure: His only project with a firm start date is the espionage drama The Tourist, which begins production in March.

Will Smith Despite a weak $14.9 million opening, Seven Pounds isn’t really the biggest loser: It dropped just 11 percent after two weekends in the top 10, despite a savage beating from critics and the most confounding promotional campaign of the year. (Seven pounds…of what?) Surprisingly, the usually prolific Smith has nothing slated for release in 2009. But he does have a slew of potential projects in development, including a Hancock sequel and an I Am Legend prequel. Such films could reaffirm his status as the most bankable movie star on earth.

Marley And what about the furry little breakout stars? A spokeswoman for the various dogs who played Marley & Me‘s head pooch said they have nothing lined up, but are relaxing with their trainers in Venice Beach, Calif., and ”taking all offers.” — With reporting by Adam Markovitz

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