Box Office Guru Wrapup: No Strings Attached Wins Weekend

Plus, The Way Back fails to crack the top ten.

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This weekend, Hollywood's current princess Natalie Portman reigned supreme over the North American box office as her new comedy No Strings Attached debuted at number one giving the Black Swan actress two films in the top ten a week after her big Golden Globe win. With no other films opening in wide release, most holdovers fared well with awards contenders enjoying the best legs thanks to strong word-of-mouth and buzz. But overall, the marketplace remained in poor shape falling below last year's levels for the eleventh consecutive weekend.

Audiences came out in healthy numbers for the sex comedy No Strings Attached spending an estimated $20.3M on its opening weekend. The R-rated film starring Portman and Ashton Kutcher about a couple that tries to have a sex-only relationship played heavily to young adult women. The debut was slightly better than the openings for R-rated non-summer comedies like I Love You, Man ($17.8M) and Forgetting Sarah Marshall ($17.7M) and matched the $20.2M bow of Kutcher's PG-13 summer comedy What Happens in Vegas co-starring Cameron Diaz. That film went on to reach $80.3M. Portman has only opened one other film at number one while in the lead role - V For Vendetta which bowed to $25.6M in March 2006.

According to studio research, women made up a whopping 70% of the audience while 60% were over 25. Critics gave mixed reviews and audiences felt the same as Strings scored a not-so-impressive B CinemaScore grade. Starpower and a lack of exciting films aimed at young women right now helped the top spot performance. Produced for just $25M, the Paramount release may come close to tripling that amount in its final domestic tally. Female-skewing comedies are often programmed into January as an alternative option for older teen girls and young women during a time when the football playoffs are taking lots of men out of the picture. Sunday's games are expected to have a big impact on the multiplexes, especially in the Northeast and Midwest where the four Super Bowl-hopeful teams are from.

Last week's top film The Green Hornet fell to second and experienced a decent hold for the superhero genre falling 46% to an estimated $18.1M. Sony has collected $63.4M in ten days for its Seth Rogen action comedy and may find its way to just over the $100M mark domestically. Overseas, the 3D pic grossed an estimated $18.7M thanks to some new countries opening upping the international take to $37.4M and the global gross to $100.8M.

Universal suffered a larger-than-hoped-for drop for its Vince Vaughn-Kevin James buddy comedy The Dilemma which fell 45% to an estimated $9.7M for a ten-day total of $33.4M. Upon opening last weekend to a soft $17.8M, the studio was comparing the Ron Howard-directed film to adult comedies like Something's Gotta Give and As Good As It Gets which had sophomore declines of 29% and 3% respectively. Budgeted at $70M, The Dilemma may end its run with about $60M.

Awards contenders all hoping for Best Picture nominations on Tuesday from the Academy followed with each showing sturdy legs. The King's Speech, which surprised the industry Saturday by upsetting The Social Network for the prestigious PGA prize, grossed an estimated $9.2M matching its performance from last weekend. With no decline and another frame in the number four slot, the Colin Firth-Geoffrey Rush period drama pushed its cume up to $58.6M and is now on track to jump the $100M mark if it can land the wide range of Oscar nods it's expected to get.

The Weinstein Co. projected an aggressive estimate projecting a slim 20% Saturday-to-Sunday drop when other adult dramas were forecasting 40-50%. Speech is hoping to be a strong upscale alternative to football on Sunday but even a final take of under $9M would keep it in fourth place. The royal drama is following a strategy similar to Million Dollar Baby by waiting until later in the race to expand nationally and become a bigger part of the Oscar conversation thus making it a fresher film to vote for over an overexposed front-runner. The King's Speech wants to do to The Social Network what the Clint Eastwood pic did to The Aviator six years ago.

Western powerhouse True Grit placed fifth with an estimated $8M, off only 27%, upping Paramount's take to $138.6M. Natalie Portman popped up again with her second film in the top ten with the red hot Black Swan which took in an estimated $6.2M in its eighth round. Off just 26%, the Fox Searchlight film has banked $83.6M thus far. Paramount's brother tale The Fighter, which won both supporting acting Golden Globes last weekend, dipped a mere 12% to an estimated $4.5M and has punched up a solid $73M.

The King's Speech and Black Swan are both on course to join True Grit in the $100M+ club and Fighter could break in too proving that quality adult dramas can sell tons of tickets, especially during awards season. The quartet of acclaimed films has already grossed a combined $354M and will probably reach $475M or more. The combined production costs for the four hits is under $100M. Best Picture nominations will open the doors to more moviegoers curious to see the year's best films so expect these titles to stick around for a while. And with very few exciting new releases scheduled between now and Oscar night, there is plenty of mileage left.

Christmas leftovers rounded out the top ten. Universal's comedy Little Fockers fell 39% to an estimated $4.4M raising the cume to $141.2M. Despite today's higher ticket prices, the third pic in the series will end as the lowest-grossing installment finishing below the $166.2M of 2000's Meet the Parents and well below the $279.2M of 2004's Meet the Fockers.

Warner Bros. enjoyed another good hold from Yogi Bear which grossed an estimated $4.1M, off 24%, for a $88.9M total. A lack of competing kidpics is helping the 3D pic head towards $100M. TRON: Legacy did well too slipping 35% to an estimated $3.7M for an impressive $163.3M to date.

The top ten films grossed an estimated $88.2M which was down a troubling 27% from last year when Avatar stayed in the top spot with $34.9M; and down 26% from 2009 when Paul Blart: Mall Cop remained at number one with $21.6M.

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