The Founding Fathers (search) keep earning interest on their loot. Nicolas Cage's "National Treasure," about a race to find a fortune hidden by the signers of the Declaration of Independence, was the top movie for a third straight weekend with $17.1 million in ticket sales, according to studio estimates Sunday.
The action flick lifted its total to $110.2 million after 17 days in release, dominating a quiet post-Thanksgiving weekend with no new movies debuting in wide release.
Mike Nichols' caustic sex drama "Closer" (search) — starring Julia Roberts, Jude Law, Natalie Portman (search) and Clive Owen — opened strongly in narrower release, taking in $7.7 million. Playing in 476 theaters, "Closer" had a healthy average of $16,176 a cinema, compared to a $5,286 average in 3,243 theaters for "National Treasure."
The martial-arts epic "House of Flying Daggers," a strong contender for the foreign-language Academy Award, premiered well in limited release. Directed by Zhang Yimou ("Hero"), the film grossed $417,020 in 15 theaters for a $27,801 average.
The overall box office declined after three straight weekends of rising revenue. The top 12 movies grossed $80.3 million, down 10 percent from the same weekend last year.
"National Treasure," a reunion between Cage and producer Jerry Bruckheimer ("The Rock"), surprised box-office analysts with its staying power.
"Nicolas Cage and Jerry Bruckheimer are always a force to be reckoned with, but to have this film at No. 1 for three weeks, I don't think anyone saw that coming," said Paul Dergarabedian, president of box-office tracker Exhibitor Relations.
The movie's box-office reign will end next weekend with the debut of the star-studded heist sequel "Ocean's Twelve," whose cast includes George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Roberts.
Distributor Sony is rolling "Closer" out slowly to build buzz through Hollywood's upcoming awards season. "Closer" placed third behind "Finding Neverland" and "The Aviator" on the National Board of Review's list released last week of best 2004 films, and the group honored the movie's cast for best ensemble performance.
"It is a very adult film, and it does seem that a slower rollout is the appropriate thing to do with it," said Rory Bruer, Sony head of distribution.
Oliver Stone's historical epic "Alexander," which opened to poor reviews, grossed $4.7 million, down 65 percent from its debut the previous weekend. "Alexander," which reportedly cost $150 million to make, took in just $29.7 million in its first 12 days.
Estimated ticket sales for Friday through Sunday at North American theaters, according to Exhibitor Relations Co. Inc. Final figures will be released Monday.
1. "National Treasure," $17.1 million.
2. "Christmas With the Kranks," $11.7 million.
3. "The Polar Express," $11 million.
4. "The Incredibles," $9.2 million.
5. "The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie," $7.8 million.
6. "Closer," $7.7 million.
7. "Alexander," $4.7 million.
8. "Finding Neverland," $2.9 million.
9. "Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason," $2.8 million.
10. "Ray," $1.9 million.