Smith's `Legend' Lives On With $76.5 Million Record Debut; Personal Best For Box-Office Champ

Sunday, December 16th 2007, 2:16 pm
By: News On 6

LOS ANGELES (AP) For the last man on Earth, Will Smith sure has a lot of friends. The Warner Bros. tale ``I Am Legend,'' starring Smith as a plague survivor who may be the last living human, debuted with $76.5 million, the biggest December opening ever and a personal best for one of Hollywood's top box-office champs, according to studio estimates Sunday.

``It's no wonder Will Smith feels so lonely. Everyone else on Earth is in the movie theater,'' said Paul Dergarabedian, president of box-office tracker Media By Numbers.

The 20th Century Fox family flick ``Alvin and the Chipmunks,'' starring Jason Lee in a big-screen take on the cartoon critters, opened a strong No. 2 with $45 million. The two films combined to give Hollywood a year-end surge after a drowsy fall season.

``Forty-five million acorns,'' said Chris Aronson, senior vice president for distribution at 20th Century Fox. ``Chipmunks are diurnal animals and they do hibernate, but not right now.''

Overall business soared, with the top 12 movies taking in $153.6 million, up 39% from the same weekend a year earlier, when Smith also was No. 1 with a $26.5 million debut for ``The Pursuit of Happyness.''

The previous No. 1 movie, New Line Cinema's fantasy ``The Golden Compass,'' nose-dived in its second weekend, coming in third with $9 million, down a dismal 65% from its less-than-expected $25.8 million debut a week earlier.

``The Golden Compass,'' which cost $180 million to produce, has done $90 million so far overseas but has proven a dud domestically with just $41 million.

On the other hand, ``I Am Legend'' smashed Smith's personal debut record, easily exceeding the $52.1 million opening weekends of ``I, Robot'' and ``Men in Black II,'' his previous bests. ``I Am Legend'' outdid the $72.6 million premiere of 2003's ``The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King,'' the previous best December opening.

``It's nice to be in the Will Smith business,'' said Dan Fellman, head of distribution for Warner Bros. ``He is just the No. 1 box-office star in the world today.''

Based on the Richard Matheson novel filmed twice before as Vincent Price's ``The Last Man on Earth'' and Charlton Heston's ``The Omega Man,'' ``I Am Legend'' casts Smith as a scientist trying to find a cure and fighting off the vestiges of humanity, people transformed by the plague into vampire-like creatures.

Two Golden Globe nominees just hitting theaters did well in their second weekends.

Focus Features' ``Atonement'' a tragic romance that led the Globes with seven nominations, including best drama and acting honors for Keira Knightley and James McAvoy pulled in $1.85 million in 117 theaters. That gave ``Atonement'' a strong average of $15,835 a theater, compared to $21,224 in 3,606 cinemas for ``I Am Legend.''

Fox Searchlight's ``Juno,'' a teen-pregnancy comedy whose three nominations included best comedy or musical and an acting honor for Ellen Page, grossed $1.44 million in 40 theaters for a $36,018 average.

``Atonement'' and ``Juno'' expand into nationwide release over the next three weekends.

Another Golden Globe nominee, the Paramount Classics-DreamWorks foreign-language contender ``The Kite Runner,'' debuted strongly with $450,970 in 35 theaters for a $12,885 average. Spanning the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan to modern times, the film follows an emigrant to America who returns home to rescue the son of a childhood friend.

Francis Ford Coppola's first film in 10 years, ``Youth Without Youth'' from Sony Pictures Classics, had a so-so debut of $27,815 in six theaters, averaging $4,636. The film stars Tim Roth as an elderly language scholar whose youth is restored by a lightning strike.

Estimated ticket sales for Friday through Sunday at U.S. and Canadian theaters, according to Media By Numbers LLC. Final figures will be released Monday.

1. ``I Am Legend,'' $76.5 million.

2. ``Alvin and the Chipmunks,'' $45 million.

3. ``The Golden Compass,'' $9 million.

4. ``Enchanted,'' $6 million.

5. ``No Country for Old Men,'' $3 million.

6. ``The Perfect Holiday,'' $2.97 million.

7. ``Fred Claus,'' $2.3 million.

8. ``This Christmas,'' $2.3 million.

9. ``Atonement,'' $1.85 million.

10. ``August Rush,'' $1.8 million.