Ashton Kutcher ambushed the top two spots at the North American box office this weekend playing an animated mule and a Coast Guard rookie in Open Season and The Guardian, respectively. Both films enjoyed strong openings pumping in a combined $40M and helped the marketplace beat last year’s levels for the first time in four weeks. The weekend’s other new wide release, the comedy School for Scoundrels, saw more modest results with a fourth place bow.

Sony claimed its usual position atop the charts with the animated comedy Open Season which brought in an estimated $23M in ticket sales over the weekend. Hunting moviegoers in an ultrawide 3,833 theaters, the PG-rated film about funny forest animals fighting off hunters averaged a strong $6,001 per site. Open Season marked the first venture from the studio’s new in-house animation division which will compete in the years ahead with dominant players in CG toons like Pixar and DreamWorks. Martin Lawrence and Kutcher led the voice cast.

Sony research showed that 77% of the crowd consisted of parents with children under the age of 12, while girls were a bigger force making up 56% of the audience. A high 89% marked the film "excellent" or "very good". With strong exit polls and the Columbus Day school holiday coming up next week, the $85M film hopes to last throughout the month of October. For the studio, it was Sony’s record eleventh number one opening of the year. Of the company’s twenty film releases in the first nine months of 2006, half have debuted north of $20M.

Kutcher’s face and body showed up in the weekend’s number two film, the Coast Guard action drama The Guardian, which opened with an estimated $17.7M. Also starring Kevin Costner, the Buena Vista release averaged a solid $5,451 per theater from 3,241 sites. The starpower helped bring in moviegoers who in turn liked the film. The Guardian earned an impressive CinemaScore grade of A-. Studio research showed that 50% of the crowd was in the 26-49 age bracket while males outnumbered the ladies with 53% of the audience. For Costner, who has not been a major box office force in over a decade, it was actually his best opening since Waterworld‘s $21.2M debut in 1995. Kutcher has seen many films debut in the same ballpark like The Butterfly Effect with $17.1M, Just Married with $17.5M, and Guess Who with $20.7M.

Falling an understandable 52% from its top spot debut, Jackass: Number Two finished the weekend in third place with an estimated $14M. With $51.5M in ten days, the $12M production should deliver $70-75M for Paramount plus healthy DVD revenue down the road. The first Jackass film grossed $42.1M in its first ten days on its way to a $64.3M cume in 2002.

Earning passing grades in fourth place was the Billy Bob ThorntonJon Heder comedy School for Scoundrels which opened to an estimated $9.1M. Playing in 3,004 theaters, the PG-13 film about a young loser who seeks advice from an older pro on how to get women averaged a mild $3,032 per site. Reviews were not too encouraging for the MGM release.

Jet Li‘s Fearless dropped a steep 56% in its second weekend and placed fifth with an estimated $4.7M. The action star’s "final" martial arts epic has grossed $17.8M in ten days and looks headed for about $26M. Each of Li’s last five films also fell by more than half on its sophomore frame.

Sony’s football drama Gridiron Gang fell 52% to an estimated $4.5M pushing its cume to $33.2M. Enjoying the smallest decline in the top ten for the fourth consecutive weekend was the sleeper hit The Illusionist with $2.8M, off only 15%, for a total of $31.5M for Yari Film Group. MGM’s fighter pilot adventure Flyboys tumbled 61% in its second weekend to an estimated $2.3M. With only $9.9M in ten days, a final take of around $14M seems likely.

Yet another period drama The Black Dahlia followed with an estimated $2.1M, down 54%, giving Universal only $20.7M to date. Rounding out the top ten with the biggest cume on the list was indie sensation Little Miss Sunshine with an estimated $2M, off 28%, for a total of $53.2M for Fox Searchlight. The acclaimed comedy has now matched megablockbusters Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest, The Da Vinci Code, and Cars by spending seven consecutive weekends in the top ten.

A pair of critically-acclaimed dramas about world leaders opened to fantastic results in limited release. Miramax launched its Helen Mirren starrer The Queen on Saturday and grossed an estimated $123,000 from just three New York theaters for a potent two-day average of $41,000. The story of Queen Elizabeth II after the death of Princess Diana was double-screened at a pair of the arthouse venues and opened a day later than usual since on Friday it screened as the opening night film of the New York Film Festival. Mirren won the Best Actress prize at the Venice International Film Festival and is considered a major contender for an Oscar nod.

Also a likely Academy Award nominee, but for the Best Actor trophy, was Forest Whitaker whose new film The Last King of Scotland debuted powerfully with an estimated $143,000 over three days from only four venues in New York and Los Angeles. The Fox Searchlight release finds Whitaker playing Ugandan dictator Idi Amin in the early 1970s. Since its Wednesday launch, Scotland has grossed $172,000 in five days and will expand into the top ten markets on Friday before spreading nationally on October 20.

Posting a respectable debut in moderate national release was the football drama Facing the Giants which collected an estimated $1.4M from 441 theaters for a mild $3,150 average. The PG-rated pic about a coach who finds inspiration from God was released by Destination Films and Samuel Goldwyn Films.

Warner Independent Pictures expanded its Michel Gondry pic The Science of Sleep from 14 to 221 theaters nationwide and grossed an estimated $1.2M. Averaging a solid $5,475 per location, the R-rated drama lifted its sum to $1.7M. Lionsgate widened its doc The U.S. vs. John Lennon grossing an estimated $210,000 from 57 sites for a moderate $3,684 average. Cume stands at $361,000.

Three films dropped out of the top ten this weekend. Sony’s big fall flop All the King’s Men crumbled 56% in its second weekend to an estimated $1.6M giving the political drama a puny $6.3M in ten days. Rejected by audiences, the Sean Penn flick should finish its run quickly with a horrendous $9M. The studio’s supernatural teen thriller The Covenant fell 59% to an estimated $1.3M and upped its total to $22.2M. A $25M final should result for the $20M production. Fox’s baseball toon Everyone’s Hero got crushed by the arrival of Open Season and sank 79% to an estimated $1M. With a modest $13.2M thus far, the animated film could end up with only $15M.

The top ten films grossed an estimated $82.2M which was up 15% from last year when Flightplan remained at number one with $14.8M; but down 17% from 2004 when Shark Tale opened in the top spot with a fierce $47.6M.

Author: Gitesh Pandya,

This week at the movies, we’ve got jive talking woodland creatures ("Open Season," with Martin Lawrence and Ashton Kutcher). We’ve got a school for Coast Guard rescue swimmers ("The Guardian," starring Kevin Coster and Kutcher again). And we’ve got a school…for scoundrels ("School for Scoundrels," starring Billy Bob Thornton and Jon Heder). Which of these flicks will get a passing grade from critics?

"Open Season," Sony Pictures Animation’s first picture, features the voices of Martin Lawrence and Ashton Kutcher as a grizzly bear and a deer, respectively, who must team up after getting stranded in the woods at the start of hunting season. Critics say that despite some impressive visuals and funny sequences, "Open Season" does little to distinguish itself from the recent glut of CG kiddie films. At 43 percent on the Tomatometer, you should turn, turn, turn away from this middling "Season."

Martin Bear: "Say it, Ashton. Say I was funny on Martin!"
Ashton Deer: "I’m Ashton Kutcher! I was on That 70’s Show!"

Kevin Costner makes a hopeful return to the action genre in "The Guardian," in which he plays a veteran U.S. Coast Guard officer who must mentor a cocky young upstart played by Ashton Kutcher. The film features intense training sequences, dramatic rescue scenes, and the requisite love story. Sound familiar? Critics seem to think so, calling it a cliched mix of "An Officer and a Gentleman" and "Top Gun," with a predictable storyline. At 40 percent on the Tomatometer, "The Guardian" needs rescuing.

"Oh, man… Finally, a funny ‘Waterworld‘ joke!"

Director Todd Phillips brings us his latest comedy "School for Scoundrels," about a nerdy meter maid (Jon Heder) who takes confidence building classes from a smarmy instructor (Billy Bob Thornton). When the student gains the confidence to ask out his longtime crush, he discovers he must compete with the teacher for her affections. Most critics are in agreement that the real scoundrels are the screenwriters who couldn’t devise a script worthy of the considerable acting talent involved. At 21 percent on the Tomatometer, "School for Scoundrels" receives a failing grade.

Jon Heder’s got to worry about more than just talons these days.

Also opening this week in limited release: "The Queen," a speculative drama about the reaction of Britain’s royal family after the death of Princess Di starring Helen Mirren, is at 95 percent on the Tomatometer; "The Last King of Scotland," which features an electrifying performance from Forrest Whitaker as the Ugandan dictator Idi Amin, is at 86 percent; "Be With Me," a three part meditation on love, hope, and destiny, is at 80 percent; "A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints," a coming-of-age story starring Robert Downey Jr., is at 77 percent; and "loudQUIETloud: A Film About the Pixies," which chronicles the triumphant reunion tour of the influential cult band, is at 60 percent.

Recent Ashton Kutcher Movies:
80% — Bobby (2006)
39% — A Lot Like Love (2005)
44% — Guess Who (2005)
33% — The Butterfly Effect (2004)
19% — Just Married (2003)

Recent Billy Bob Thornton Movies:
46% — The Ice Harvest (2005)
46% — The Bad News Bears (2005)
79% — Chrystal (2004)
82% — Friday Night Lights (2004)
30% — The Alamo (2004)

Recent Kevin Costner Movies:
18% — Rumor Has It… (2005)
73% — The Upside of Anger (2004)
79% — Open Range (2003)
8% — Dragonfly (2002)
13% — 3000 Miles to Graceland (2001)

Recent Jon Heder Movies:
73% — Monster House (2006)
11% — The Benchwarmers (2006)
56% — Just Like Heaven (2005)
71% — Napoleon Dynamite (2004)

The British Academy of Film & Television Arts (BAFTA) held their annual awards presentation on February 21st, and they managed to dole out some love for an interesting variety of films and filmmakers — most of which have been on the receiving end of other awards already, but they’re good choices anyway, if it’s me you’re asking.

Best FilmBrokeback Mountain

The Alexander Korda Award for Outstanding British Film of the Year — Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit

The Carl Foreman Award for Special Achievement by a British Director, Writer or Producer in their First Feature Film
Joe Wright, Pride & Prejudice

The David Lean Award for Achievement in DirectionAng Lee, Brokeback Mountain

Original ScreenplayPaul Haggis & Bobby Moresco, Crash

Adapted ScreenplayLarry McMurtry & Diana Ossana, Brokeback Mountain

Film Not in the English LanguageThe Beat That My Heart Skipped

Actor in a Leading RolePhilip Seymour Hoffman, Capote

Actress in a Leading RoleReese Witherspoon, Walk the Line

Actor in a Supporting RoleJake Gyllenhaal, Brokeback Mountain

Actress in a Supporting Role
Thandie Newton, Crash

The Anthony Asquith Award for Achievement in Film Music
John Williams, Memoirs of a Geisha

Dion Beebe, Memoirs of a Geisha

EditingClaire Simpson, The Consant Gardener

Production DesignStuart Craig, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

Costume DesignColleen Atwood, Memoirs of a Geisha

— Walk the Line

Achievement in Special Visual EffectsKing Kong

Make-up & HairThe Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

Short Animation Film — Fallen Art

Short Film — Antonio’s Breakfast

The Orange Rising Star AwardJames McAvoy

BAFTA is a charity with principal objects to promote and advance education through its events and to cultivate and improve public taste in the film, television and games industries. Its principal activities are the staging of UK and international awards ceremonies, special tribute evenings and an ever-expanding events and education programme. BAFTA has approximately 6,500 members worldwide.

Filmmaker Brian Robbins has settled into the director’s chair for the DreamWorks comedy "Norbit," taking a position that was (until recently) held by "Dodgeball" director Rawson Marshall Thurber, according to Variety.

Starring Eddie Murphy, "Norbit" is about "a meek guy pressed into marrying a monstrous woman (also played by Murphy). When he subsequently meets the woman of his dreams, he has to figure out a way to be with her."

The original screenplay was written by Mr. Murphy and his brother Charlie, with a second draft contributed by Jay Scherick and David Ronn, the scribes who brought us "Guess Who," "National Security," "I Spy," and "Serving Sara."

As for Mr. Robbins, he was the director behind "The Perfect Score," "Hardball," "Ready to Rumble," and "Varsity Blues."

Apple Quicktime delivers the (waaaay-early) trailer for Sony Pictures’ CGI comedy "Open Season." And while’s it’s a fairly slick and amusing trailer … the movie doesn’t come out until September of 2006!

Ashton Kutcher ("Guess Who"), Debra Messing ("The Wedding Date"), Gary Sinise ("Forrest Gump"), and Martin Lawrence ("Blue Streak"), among many others, are contributing their voices to the animated comedy. "Open Season" opens September 29th, 2006.

Fox has hired sophomore director Rawson Marshall Thurber ("Dodgeball") to helm the upcoming Eddie Murphy comedy "Norbit," according to Variety. Previously titled "Till Death Do Us Part," the comedy is about "a meek guy pressed into marrying a monstrous woman (also played by Murphy). When he subsequently meets the woman of his dreams, he has to figure out a way to be with her."

The "Norbit" screenplay was written by Eddie Murphy and his brother Charles, after which scribes Jay Scherick and David Ronn ("Guess Who") were brought in to do a polish. Producer John Fox, who previously worked with Thurber on "Dodgeball," will be overseeing the project for DreamWorks.

Sure, sure, it was the only wide release to open this past weekend, so obviously "The Amityville Horror" was bound to hit the #1 spot. But what’s pleasantly surprising (to the producers, anyway) is the news that the haunted house remake scared up $23.3 million in over 3,300 theaters. Although "Amityville" did come up short of "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" and its $28 million opening frame, the filmmakers can take solace in the fact that "Horror" cost less than $20m to produce … and is therefore (almost) cutting a profit already.Hanging in at second place is last weekend’s "Sahara," which tallied just over $13m. Jimmy Fallon and Drew Barrymore‘s "Fever Pitch" was in third place with $8.8m, with "Sin City" ($6.7m) and "Guess Who" ($4.9m) closing out the Top 5. "Sahara" won an important battle by only slipping 28% in its second weekend, while I’m sure the Frank Miller fans will be pleased to know that "Sin City" has now crossed $60m in domestic sales. Looks like "Amityville" caught a break by having no new competition, but next week sees the release of three big-ticket titles ("The Interpreter," "A Lot Like Love," and "King’s Ransom"), plus the 2,000-theater expansion of Stephen Chow‘s "Kung Fu Hustle." Check out the Rotten Tomatoes Box Office Chart for a lot more of the hard numbers.

Box Office Mojo shares this weekend’s ticket sales, and it seems that Breck Eisner’s "Sahara" was the hot new ticket. The Matthew McConaughey adventure flick grossed approximately $18.5 million in just over 3,100 theaters. Dropping to second place was Dimension’s somewhat controversial "Sin City," which managed to pull in just over $14m in its second weekend. Debuting at third place was the Drew Barrymore rom-com "Fever Pitch," which made about $13m at 3,200 venues.A virtual tie for fourth place saw "Guess Who" and "Beauty Shop" earn about $7.1m each, and fifth place went to "Robots," which has now grossed over $110m to date. Next Friday sees only one new wide release ("The Amityville Horror"), so you can expect to see several of these flicks on the chart next Sunday. For box office reports that are a whole lot more concise than mine, take a quick trip over to Box Office Mojo.

Box Office Mojo chimes in with the weekend’s box office estimates, and let’s just say it was a weekend full of "Sin." The all-star ultra-violent comic-noir "Sin City" hauled in an estimated $28 million in over 3,200 theaters. In second place was Queen Latifah’s "Beauty Shop," which made just over $17 million since it opened last Wednesday. "Guess Who" came in 3rd with a $13m weekend haul, with "Robots" ($10m) in 4th and "Miss Congeniality 2" ($8.3m) in 5th."Sin City" will try to stay on top next weekend, but faces some solid competition from the adventure tale "Sahara" and the romantic comedy "Fever Pitch."

Two comedies battled for box office supremacy this Easter weekend and the interracial romantic comedy “Guess Who,” starring Ashton Kutcher and Bernie Mac, handily defeated “Miss Congeniality 2: Armed and Fabulous,” starring Sandra Bullock.

The first pairing of Ashton Kutcher and Bernie Mac proved successful as “Guess Who” took first place at the box office by grossing an estimated $21M this weekend. This marked a personal best for Ashton Kutcher for films in which he has top billing. His previous best was another romantic comedy, “Just Married,” which debuted with $17.5M in 2003. Of the two new wide releases this weekend, it was the better reviewed with 43% on the Tomatomter. Despite the chemistry of its stars, critics thought “Guess Who,” a loose remake of “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner,” lacked the political relevance of the original.

In 2nd place was “Miss Congeniality 2: Armed and Fabulous,” the sequel to one of Sandra Bullock’s most successful films. It did an estimated $14.5M in business this weekend. Since opening on Thursday, it has grossed $17.6M. “Miss Congeniality 2’”s $14.5M opening is slightly better than the original’s $13.9M debut, which ended its theatrical run with an impressive $106.8M. With almost universally bad reviews at 19% on the Tomatometer, the sequel would be lucky if it can finish with half of the original’s total. Critics thought Sandra Bullock was still as appealing as ever; too bad the movie was not pageant material.

Last weekend’s first place finisher “The Ring Two” dropped to 3rd with an estimated $13.8M, a staggering 61% drop-off from the previous weekend. It has grossed $58M after two weeks of release.

Robots” placed 4th with an estimated $13M. Its total after three weeks of releases is $87.4M.

The Pacifier” continues to do strong business. It did an estimated $8.5M in business and placed 5th. Its total after four weeks of release is $86.2M.

Rounding out the rest of the top 12 are “Hitch” in 6th with $4.3M ($166.5M total), “Hostage” in 7th with $4.1M ($26.2M total), “Ice Princess” in 8th with $3.7M ($13.3M total), “Be Cool” in 9th with $2.9M ($52.4M total), “Million Dollar Baby” in 10th with $2.6M ($94.6M total), “The Upside of Anger” in 11th with $1.3M ($4M total), and “Constantine” in 12th with $1.2M ($72.7M total).

Click here for the detailed chart.

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