The epic-saga spoof earned just $575,000 more than the latest Stallone franchise pic, according to Sunday's estimates; meanwhile, ''Cloverfield'' dropped and ''Juno'' passed the $100 million mark
Kevin Sorbo, Sean Maguire, ...
Credit: Doug Hyun

In a close and bloody box office battle, the bumbling warriors of the spoof Meet the Spartans edged out aged mercenary John Rambo of the franchise flick Rambo to win the weekend box office by a tight margin of just $575,000, according to Sunday’s estimates. Meet the Spartans grossed $18.725 mil while Rambo brought in $18.150 mil, but we’ll have to wait for the final numbers to come out on Monday before officially declaring a winner. Still, this is good news for both films — well, good news for the Greek fighters and really good news for the Vietnam vet.

Meet the Spartans came in almost exactly where most predictions (or at least mine) said it would, for its $18.7 mil gross is in line with both the $19.1 mil that Date Movie earned in early 2006 and the $18.6 mil that Epic Movie banked on this weekend a year ago. Troubling, however, is that the movie’s CinemaScore was a terrible C- (coming from a crowd that was, not surprisingly 58 percent male and three-quarters under the age of 25), which means that while it may have won this week’s battle at the box office, it probably won’t have the stamina for a longer war.

Rambo, however, might. The antique action flick, which was written, produced, and directed by star Sylvester Stallone got a nice A- CinemaScore (its audience was mostly older males, duh). While the film’s predecessors in the Rambo franchise came out so long ago (the last one debuted in 1988) that any box office comparisons are moot, it is worth noting that this movie’s $18.2 mil opening compares quite favorably with the $12.2 mil debut of Stallone’s last character resurrection, 2006’s Rocky Balboa. And, actually, forget about character resurrections, Stallone may just have resurrected his whole career with this debut: It is the biggest he’s had as a lead star since Rocky IV banked $20 mil on its first weekend back in 1985 (again, not a totally meaningful statistic since that was during, like, the Cold War, when movie tickets cost much less and a premiere of, say, $8 mil was considered big). So while many may have rolled their eyes and even laughed at the news of a new Rambo movie (yep, guilty as charged), Stallone likely made the right decision to do it.

The weekend’s other major matter to report came two notches below, past 27 Dresses‘ nice $13.6 mil second-weekend take at No. 3. That’s where we find Cloverfield, all bruised and battered in fourth place, with a $12.7 mil gross — a whopping 68 percent decline from its record opening last weekend. Now, this was to be expected, considering the fact that the movie’s most ardent ticket buyers checked it out on opening weekend, and many reported that they didn’t love it. But were we in the press too soon to suggest that a sequel may already be in store? Perhaps. Then again, you’ve got to imagine that, with a two-week domestic take of $64.3 mil, the folks at Paramount have to be pleased with their initial $25 mil production-budget investment. What’s more, Cloverfield did beat out the two other new releases: Untraceable rounded out the top five with an unsurprisingly underwhelming $11.2 mil, while How She Move (No. 12) was a non factor, earning just $4.2 mil.

As for the movies that were nominated last week for the Best Picture Oscar, Juno (No. 6) fared best, banking $10.3 mil to push its cumulative gross over the $100 mil mark (it was the 28th and probably last release of 2007 to break the nine-figure barrier). Juno is, after all, the only blockbuster of the group, though most of its rivals saw nice bumps: There Will Be Blood (No. 8) earned $4.9 mil; Atonement brought in $4 mil (a slight 14 percent drop, the only decline within this elite group); No Country for Old Men grossed $2.5 mil; and Michael Clayton racked up another $2.1 mil.

And on another historical note, Alvin and the Chipmunks reached the $200 mil plateau, just as National Treasure: Book of Secrets did in the middle of last week, making 2007 the first year in history to boast 11 such releases. (The previous champ, 2005, had eight $200 mil domestic earners.)

Amidst all this success, then, it’s no surprise that the total box office take was up nearly 21 percent from the same frame a year ago. And that’s a number that won’t change much, even if the rankings of the movies do wind up switching around a bit when the final figures are released tomorrow. Be patient, people; we’ll just have to wait and see.

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