LOS ANGELES – "Paul Blart: Mall Cop" wasn't ready to turn over his box-office badge this weekend as the film about a bumbling shopping center security guard earned $21.5 million to nab No. 1 for a second week in a row.
The comedy, starring Kevin James as the guard who tries to protect the mall where he works from criminals, has now grossed $64.8 million in its two weeks of release and appears on its way to surpass $100 million.
"It's just a very funny film," said Rory Bruer, president of worldwide distribution for Sony. "It's not only a great family film, it really is a film that everyone loves."
The third installment of the "Underworld" series fared well in its opening weekend. "Underworld: Rise of the Lycans," a prequel that looks at the roots of a feud between vampires and werewolves, made $20.7 million. Its two predecessors — "Underworld" and "Underworld: Evolution" — earned $21.7 million and $26.8 million, respectively, in their opening weekends.
The fantasy adventure "Inkheart" was unable to cast a spell over movie-goers, earning only $7.7 million in its debut. The movie, taken from the best-selling novel by Cornelia Funke, features Brendan Fraser playing a bookbinder with the ability to read characters right out of books and into real life.
"Unfortunately, families didn't come out in larger numbers," said Jeff Goldstein, Warner Bros.' executive vice president of distribution.
Films that received Academy Award nominations this past week had a strong showing at the box office as studios expanded their release.
"Slumdog Millionaire," the drama about a game-show contestant from the slums of Mumbai, earned $10.6 million this weekend as the movie appeared in more than 1,400 theaters. Studio executives said the film, which has now made nearly $56 million, has been boosted by its recent haul of awards, including top honors from the Producers Guild of America on Saturday.
"I think the word of mouth has been very strong since we opened in November, but with the Golden Globes and the Academy Award nominations as well as the PGA, it's the must-see movie before the Academy Awards in February," said Sheila DeLoach, senior vice president of distribution at Fox Searchlight.
"The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" re-entered the Top 10, earning $6 million to boost its total to $111 million. The film, starring Brad Pitt as a man aging backward toward infancy, landed 13 Oscar nominations, including best actor for Pitt. "The Wrestler" and "Frost/Nixon" also drew big crowds this weekend.
"This group has gotten the biggest (Oscar) bump collectively that I've ever seen," said Paul Dergarabedian, president of the box-office tracker Media by Numbers. "This lays to rest the argument that Oscar nominations can't help out your box-office numbers."
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. "Paul Blart: Mall Cop," $21.5 million.
2. "Underworld: Rise of the Lycans," $20.7 million.
3. "Gran Torino," $16 million.
4. "Hotel for Dogs," $12.4 million.
5. "Slumdog Millionaire," $10.6 million.
6. "My Bloody Valentine 3-D," $10.1 million.
7. "Inkheart," $7.7 million.
8. "Bride Wars," $7 million.
9. "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button," $6 million.
10. "Notorious," $5.7 million.