Box-Office Weekend: Zombie-ootiful!

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Sony

Woody Harrelson in Zombieland

In the race between a bunch of zombies and three stars who are also directors — Ricky Gervais, Michael Moore and Drew Barrymore — the humans never stood a chance. The horror-comedy Zombieland won the weekend in North American theaters by scaring up $25 million, according to early studio estimates, which is more than the $23.6 million it cost to shoot the thing. This spawn of Shaun of the Dead helped Hollywood rebound from a lethargic frame a week ago; the industry's total take was nearly as burly as the same weekend last year, when the multiplex was ruled by Beverly Hills Chihuahua, another comedy about the invasion of Los Angeles by odd-looking creatures.

Starring Woody Harrelson and Jesse Eisenberg as Oscar-and-Felix zombie busters who hook up with con artist Emma Stone and her kid sister Abigail Breslin, the movie was sold as a splatter movie with laughs, which certainly brought in the intended demographic of lonely young males. But since it is also a buddy movie with a healthy slice of teen romance, the zom-com may eventually attract a more disparate crowd. That should be helped by an enthusiastic A- rating from the CinemaScore poll of exiting moviegoers and by a sheaf of favorable reviews. One dissenter in the critical community, Manohla Dargis of the New York Times, wrote that "the piles of bodies at the end did make me flash on the Nazi extermination camps, which, you know, really killed the joke, too." What do you bet that somebody in Hollywood scanned the Dargis review and got the bright idea of casting Breslin in a remake of The Reader for tweens?

As was the case in two out of the last three weeks, the No. 1 movie well exceeded the cumulative take of a trio of other debut films. The Invention of Lying, Gervais' pro-prevarication, anti-religion romantic comedy, earned a modestly encouraging $7.4 million. Moore's docu-frolic Capitalism: A Love Story just about equaled the opening for his previous screed, Sicko, by banking a conservative $4,850,000. That number tied the reported earnings for Whip It, the roller-derby sisterhood comedy directed by Barrymore. All three star directors have carpeted the TV talk-show circuit lately, but none could lure many paying customers. Then again, they couldn't match the break that Zombieland caught on Oct. 1, when Harrelson was the first guest after David Letterman told his sextortion story to millions of avid tuner-inners. Once in a while, bad things help good movies.

Lying, Capitalism and Whip It were bested not only by the zombies but also by a CGI barrage of flying food and kids' playthings. Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs continued its robust run, passing the $80 million mark on its third weekend. It came in second, immediately followed by Disney's 3-D release of those seminal Pixar buddy films, the 1995 Toy Story and the 1999 Toy Story 2. Playing at jacked-up prices on 1,745 screens, the Toy tandem earned $12.5 million to add to the $847 million (about $1.1 billion today) the two movies amassed in their original releases, plus the untold quillions in home-video revenue and Woody and Buzz Lightyear merchandise. By the end of its two-week showcase run, the duo should surpass the entire domestic gross of Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez's 2007 Grindhouse, the last three-hour double feature to hit theaters.

In limited release, A Serious Man got the Job done, with $252,000 in six theaters in New York, L.A. and the Minneapolis suburbs, where the movie is set. How this Jewiest of Coen brothers parables will play in more gentile climes, only God knows. More Than a Game, the inspirational sports drama (is there any other kind?) starring NBA titan LeBron James, was no winner, earning less than the Coen movie in twice as many theaters. The real specialty buzz was for Paranormal Activity, a Blair Witch-y haunted-house thriller that reportedly scared the pants off Steven Spielberg. Paramount has been showing it in college towns the past two weekends, asking viewers to vote online if they wanted the movie shown more widely. Shot for a joke-small $15,000, Paranormal has already earned $780,000 on just 33 screens. That's a frighteningly good haul, and guarantees a broader release — perhaps in time for Halloween?

Here are the official studio estimates for this weekend's top 10 movies at the North American box office:

1. Zombieland, $25 million, first weekend
2. Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs, $16.7 million; $82.4 million, third week
3. Toy Story 3-D and Toy Story 2 3-D, $12.5 million, first weekend
4. The Invention of Lying, $7.350 million, first weekend
5. Surrogates, $7.344 million; $26.4 million, second week
7. Capitalism: A Love Story, $4.850 million; $5.2 million, second week
6. Whip It, $4.850 million, first weekend
8. Fame, $4.754 million; $16.6 million, second week
9. The Informant!, $3.8 million; $26.6 million, third week
10. Love Happens, $2.8 million; $18.9 million, third week