Box Office: Bullish on Wall Street, Owlish on Guardians

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Michael Douglas as Gordon Gekko

Gordon Gekko is back in style. Michael Douglas' onetime master of the universe — the venal villain of insider trading who became an icon to the generation of sharks responsible for the financial collapse of 2008 — showed he could still close a deal, as Oliver Stone's sequel to his 1987 Wall Street won the weekend with $19.7 million at the North American box office, according to early studio estimates. Pairing Douglas with young Shia LaBeouf, Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps also won the battle of logorrheic movie titles: it bested the $16.3 million announced for the 3-D animated feature Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole. The Wall Street sequel win, if a bit under early forecasts, proved what Gekko used to say, and Hollywood always believes: greed is good, baby.

The Wall Street sequel's booty gave Douglas his strongest debut in a top-billed role, though in real dollars this one trails his starring stints in the long-ago thrillers The Game, A Perfect Murder and Don't Say a Word. For LaBeouf, the sequel's take came in just a smidge below the $100 million garnered in the first three days of the 2008 Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull — the Wonder Beouf's last fling with a 65-year-old star, a famous director born in 1946 and a franchise that had taken a Rip Van Winkle snooze — and, for that matter, it was less than the openings of Shia's solo flights, Disturbia and Eagle Eye. LaBeouf will return to his day job of starring in low-IQ blockbusters with next summer's terror-toy sequel, Transformers 3.

Legend, based on the first three of Kathryn Lasky's 15-book fantasy series, can at least claim it's the top-opening owl movie ever, unless you count Harry Potter's mail carrier Hedwig. The series does have Potter elements — same U.S. publisher (Scholastic), similarly magical young creatures at a school, beset by sinister forces — but without the equivalent book sales and cultural impact. The film version united two disparate forces: Zach Snyder, director of the R-rated fables 300 and Watchmen, with the guys who animated Happy Feet, that delightful G-rated penguin movie of four years back. Legend started slow on Friday, picked up a parliament of Saturday-matinee kids and hoped to pull in more on Sunday than it did on its opening day. Whether it achieves that happy ending won't be known until Monday, when the final figures are released.

[MONDAY UPDATE: Legend of the Guardians retained its second spot, earning $16.1 million to The Town's $15.6 million. All other films in the top 10 finished close to their predicted grosses.]

If Legend has a Sunday slump, then The Town, which was last weekend's top film, may slip into this weekend's second slot. At the moment, the Boston-set crime drama, starring and directed by Ben Affleck, is expected to earn $16 million; its modest 33% slump from its opening frame suggests that the movie will have long, sturdy legs. The Town easily outran this weekend's other wide release, You Again. The cross-generational romantic comedy was designed to appeal to all female demographics by starring actresses in their 20s (Odette Yustman), 30s (Kristen Bell), 40s (Kristen Chenoweth), 50s (Jamie Lee Curtis), 60s (Sigourney Weaver) and oh-so-adorable 80s (Betty White) but grossed only $8.3 million.

In a busy weekend for indie films, the Woody Allen comedy You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger earned $163,000 at six venues, and the much-headlined Waiting for "Superman," the public-school education screed from An Inconvenient Truth director Davis Guggenheim, pulled in $141,000 at just four theaters, for the weekend's highest per-screen average. Buried, which locks Ryan Reynolds in a coffin for most of the movie, opened at 11 sites with $104,000. Howl, which stars James Franco as poet Allen Ginsberg (supported by the he's-everywhere Mad Men leading man Jon Hamm), earned a mild $54,000 at six theaters for its mélange of documentary and fiction footage. Gaspar Noe's super-weird Enter the Void took in nearly as much, $52,000, thanks in part to a rave review from the New York Times critic Manohla Dargis. The science-fiction love-and-death romance Never Let Me Go expanded to 26 theaters and accumulated a decent $245,000. But as Gordon Gekko could tell you, on Wall Street, all these figures are just lunch money.

Here are the Sunday estimates of this weekend's top-grossing pictures in North American theaters, as reported by Box Office Mojo:

1. Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, $19.7 million, first weekend
2. Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole, $16.3 million, first weekend
3. The Town, $16 million; $49.1 million, second week
4. Easy A, $10.7 million; $32.8 million, second week
5. You Again, $8.3 million, first weekend
6. Devil, $6.5 million; $21.7 million, second week
7. Resident Evil: Afterlife, $4.9 million; $52 million, third week
8. Alpha and Omega, $4.7 million; $15.1 million, second week
9. Takers, $1.65 million; $54.9 million, fifth week
10. Inception, $1.2 million; $287.1 million, 11th week