LOS ANGELES - Hollywood had a happy holiday with a huge Christmas weekend as movies from Jennifer Aniston and Owen Wilson, Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett and Adam Sandler all opened strongly.
Even Tom Cruise scored solidly in an eye patch and a German World War II uniform.
Aniston and Wilson's dog tale "Marley & Me" debuted at No. 1 with $37 million in weekend ticket sales and a total of $51.7 million since opening Christmas Day, according to estimates yesterday from distributor 20th Century Fox.
Disney's Sandler comedy "Bedtime Stories" came in second for the weekend with $28.1 million and $38.6 million since it debuted on Christmas.
Paramount's "Benjamin Button," a romantic fantasy with Pitt and Blanchett, ran a close third with $27 million for the weekend. The film has grossed $39 million since premiering Christmas Day.
MGM's "Valkyrie," starring Cruise as a German officer plotting to kill Adolf Hitler, had a No. 4 debut weekend of $21.5 million and took in $30 million since opening on Christmas.
Rounding out the holiday rush of new wide releases was Lionsgate's action thriller "The Spirit," which came in at No. 9 with $6.5 million over the weekend and $10.4 million since its Christmas debut.
"Marley & Me" was based on John Grogan's best-seller about a couple going through the ups and downs of marriage with their mischievous dog in tow. The holiday timing was ideal for a story about an adorable pup, said 20th Century Fox distribution executive Bert Livingston.
"It's an all-audience picture, ages 8 to 80. That's who's coming," Livingston said. "This is a movie about life, love and family. It's what people want to see now."
Audiences wanted to see pretty much everything over the holiday weekend. Revenues had plunged the previous two weekends, but Hollywood ended the year on a high note as the top 12 movies took in $182.5 million, up 8 percent from the same weekend in 2007.
"It's a very strong finish to the year," said Paul Dergarabedian, president of box-office tracker Media By Numbers. "Audiences are really enjoying the movies in the marketplace right now." *