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‘Why Did I Get Married?’ honeymoons at No. 1 spot

Times Staff Writer

In a competitive weekend at the box office, “Tyler Perry’s Why Did I Get Married?” outsold films featuring stars George Clooney, Joaquin Phoenix and Cate Blanchett and knocked “The Rock” out of first place.

Perry, an Atlanta-based filmmaker with a growing grass-roots following, scored his third No. 1 hit in four outings as his latest release took in a surprisingly strong $21.5 million, distributor Lions Gate Films said Sunday.

“Why Did I Get Married?” pushed Walt Disney Co.'s family comedy “The Game Plan,” starring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, to No. 2, with $11.5 million at U.S. and Canadian theaters. Based on Perry’s hit play, the PG-13 comedy drama about relationships and fidelity features a cast including Janet Jackson and the filmmaker himself.

“My strong hunch is that this is the last time anybody will underestimate Tyler Perry,” Lions Gate President Tom Ortenberg said. “Tyler’s message of family values and personal redemption speaks very strongly to people who are not frequent moviegoers.”

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The thrillers “Michael Clayton,” starring Clooney, and “We Own the Night,” with Phoenix and Mark Wahlberg, were in a tight race for No. 3 at an estimated $11 million each. The highbrow historical drama “Elizabeth: The Golden Age,” starring Blanchett, placed No. 6 with $6.2 million in a mildly disappointing premiere.

Box-office analysts, most of whom predicted Perry’s new film would open in the $10-million to $15-million range, relied on consumer tracking surveys that continually underestimate the filmmaker because his audience comprises nontraditional moviegoers, Ortenberg said.

Perry’s base is rooted in black churches, although it continues to expand.

Close to 90% of ticket buyers for the new film were African American, Ortenberg said. But the percentage of nonblack ticket buyers was the highest yet for a Perry film.

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With his enthusiastic fan base, Perry’s films have been highly “front loaded,” doing a big percentage of their business in the first weekend. And although most of his movies have been solid hits domestically, they have done almost no business overseas.

If “Why Did I Get Married?” follows the pattern of his two biggest successes, “Diary of a Mad Black Woman” and “Madea’s Family Reunion,” it will end up closer to a $50-million hit than a $100-million blockbuster.

Even so, Ortenberg said he was optimistic that the new film would show legs and that with the right marketing the filmmaker could start to make inroads abroad. “Why Did I Get Married?” received an A-plus rating in exit polls taken by CinemaScore, and in Lions Gate’s own surveys, 98% of patrons rated it “excellent” or “very good.”

Lions Gate is off to a strong start this fall. The Russell Crowe western “3:10 to Yuma” topped the $50-million mark in its sixth weekend, and the Dane Cook-Jessica Alba comedy “Good Luck Chuck” has taken in a respectable $33 million. Ortenberg predicted that “Saw IV” would open the last weekend of the month at No. 1.

In the fall tradition, Warner Bros.’ “Michael Clayton,” Sony Pictures’ “We Own the Night” and Universal Pictures’ “Elizabeth: The Golden Age” are among a crowded field of serious films aimed at adult audiences.

“Michael Clayton” -- written and directed by Tony Gilroy, who wrote or co-wrote “The Bourne Identity” and its two sequels -- has gotten by far the best reviews and could be in the best shape commercially after faring well in its second-weekend expansion.

But Sony said it was pleased that the R-rated “We Own the Night” attracted a diverse opening weekend crowd, with 58% of the audience under age 30 and 49% female.

Universal said that although it had hoped for a better launch, two-thirds of the audience for “Elizabeth” was over age 35 -- the type of crowd that rarely rushes out on opening weekend. And although the film has been coolly received by critics, Blanchett has earned her usual rave reviews, so the film could hang tough through word-of-mouth, the studio said.

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Industrywide, Hollywood’s fall slump continued.

Box-office revenue was down from the same period in 2006 for the fourth straight weekend. For the season to date, receipts are down 6% and attendance is off 11%, Media by Numbers said.

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josh.friedman@latimes.com


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