''Book of Secrets'' carries Nicolas Cage back to No. 1, burying both ''I Am Legend'' and ''Alvin and the Chipmunks''; ''Charlie Wilson's War'' and ''Sweeney Todd'' set the stage for possible longer runs

Nicolas Cage, National Treasure: Book of Secrets

With all the yuletide merriment this weekend before Christmas, it’s no wonder the new family-friendly adventure flick National Treasure: Book of Secrets dominated the box office. What is surprising is how easily it dominated Warner Bros.’ I Am Legend, now in its second weekend in theaters. The second National Treasure film grossed an estimated $45.5 million for the Friday-to-Sunday period; that’s $10 million more than the 2004 original took in on its opening weekend, and $11 million more than Legend, last weekend’s box office champ. You have to wonder just how many days Disney will wait before it greenlights a National Treasure 3. With Nicolas Cage ringing up a personal box-office best with Book of Secrets, you’ve got to believe he’d be on board immediately.

Even in second place, I Am Legend is still impressive. Yes, the PG-13-rated horror flick’s earnings dropped more than 55 percent compared with its opening weekend, but it still added $34.2 million to its tally, upping its ten-day take to $137.5 million. And Alvin and the Chipmunks continued its reign of animated cheer: The kid-friendly flick earned $29 million, putting its two-week gross at $85 million.

The weekend’s other new releases had a harder time breaking through. Most surprising, perhaps, is the slow start for producer Judd Apatow’s latest comedy, Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story, directed by Jake Kasdan. Even with overall strong reviews, Walk Hard grossed only $4.1 million for an eighth-place finish. Perhaps John C. Reilly isn’t cut out to be a leading man, or maybe the overzealous marketing campaign for this rock biopic spoof took a toll.

Charlie Wilson’s War bowed to $9.6 million, good enough for a fourth-place debut. With Julia Roberts and Tom Hanks starring in this political drama, you might have expected a higher opening. But Charlie is aimed at adults, who are no doubt tied up with holiday preparations this weekend. The next couple of weeks should determine whether or not this movie has any box-office staying power.

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street had an auspicious debut, opening to $9.3 million on 1,200 fewer screens than Charlie Wilson’s War did. The Tim Burton-directed R-rated musical drama starring Johnny Depp hit a chord with both young girls and older couples, and should expand successfully in the upcoming weeks.

Has Warner Bros. lost its touch with the romantic comedy, or does the old romantic comedy formula just not work anymore? Either way, the Hilary Swank-starring P.S. I Love You disappointed, grossing just $6.5 million in 2,454 theaters. It joins the list of Warner movies — including No Reservations and License to Wed — that didn’t click with audiences this year.

One romantic comedy that is working is Juno, starring Ellen Page, Michael Cera, and Jennifer Garner. This quirky Golden Globe nominee directed by Jason Reitman added 264 theaters to its run and grossed $3.4 million, putting its total to date at $6.3 million.

Meanwhile, Keira Knightley and James McAvoy are reigniting the love story with Atonement. Appearing on 180 additional screens this weekend, the movie earned $1.9 million to raise its total so far to $5.7 million. Atonement and Juno bowed the same weekend, but Fox Searchlight’s strategy for the latter of adding more theaters closer to Christmas seems to be working, reaping higher grosses and greater per-screen averages. As these two films continue their run, I’d put my money on Juno emerging as the stronger of the two at the box office.

It’s clear Hollywood pulled out all the stops for the end of the year. Offering diverse fare for all audiences seems to be a recipe for success. The box office was up for a second consecutive week compared with last year at this time, when Night at the Museum opened to $30 million. Now if only all these choices would boost admissions numbers, which still sag compared with last year, Hollywood really would have something to celebrate.

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street

  • Movie
  • R
  • 120 minutes
  • Tim Burton