'Madea' comedy beats up box office rivals
Tyler Perry returns to the box office with another instant number one hit; Oscar nominees lose steam. Oscar nominees lose steam.

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Playwright Tyler Perry, who turned his crazy-granny "Madea" character into a lucrative cottage industry, returned to the top of the box office Sunday, exactly one year after stunning the industry with a No. 1 bow for his first film.

"Tyler Perry's Madea's Family Reunion," which Perry wrote, directed and starred in, sold an estimated $30.3 million worth of tickets in its first three days since opening Friday, distributor Lionsgate said.

The comedy-drama revolves around a pistol-toting matriarch, played by Perry, who beats and lectures her chaotic clan into submission. It was not screened in advance for critics, a tactic usually employed when a studio knows a movie will get harsh reviews but fans will turn out anyway.

While Perry, 35, is one of the best-known black playwrights in the United States, with sold-out shows in virtually every city for his "Madea" plays, he was barely a blip on the radar of mainstream movie audiences until last February when "Diary of a Mad Black Woman" opened at No. 1. The revenge comedy, budgeted at $5.5 million, ended its theatrical run with $50 million and was huge seller on home video. It was also released by Lionsgate, a unit of Lions Gate Entertainment Corp. (Research) Last week's champion, Walt Disney Co.'s (Research) fact-based survival saga "Eight Below," slipped to No. 2 with $15.7 million, taking its 10-day total to $45.1 million.

Two big duds

Two other films opened in theaters, not that many people noticed. The canine cartoon "Doogal" played dead at No. 8 with $3.6 million, while the mob drama "Running Scared" was whacked at No. 9 with $3.1 million.

"Doogal" was released by the Weinstein Co., the privately held firm established by former Miramax Films co-chairmen Bob and Harvey Weinstein. "Running Scared" was released by New Line Cinema, a unit of Time Warner (Research).

Rounding out the top-five, Steve Martin's comedy remake "The Pink Panther," another former champ, was steady at No. 3 with $11.3 million in its third weekend. The film has earned $61 million to date.

The teen comedy "Date Movie" fell two places to No. 4 with $9.2 million, for a 10-day haul of $33.9 million. The computer-animated children's book adaptation "Curious George" dipped one spot to No. 5 with $7 million and a three-week tally of $43.1 million.

"The Pink Panther" was released by Columbia Pictures, a unit of Sony Corp. (Research) while "Date Movie" was released by Twentieth Century Fox, a unit of News Corp. (Research) "Curious George" was released by Universal Pictures, a unit of NBC Universal, which is controlled by General Electric (Research).

Oscar bust

In a sign that Oscar buzz has largely been a bust for movie theater owners, three of the five best picture nominees earned a combined $3.4 million during the weekend, with leading contender "Brokeback Mountain" accounting for $2.3 million of that. To date, the gay-cowboy film has earned $75.4 million.

George Clooney's newsroom drama "Good Night, and Good Luck" earned $600,000, while Steven Spielberg's revenge thriller "Munich" pulled in $488,000. Their respective totals stand at $30.3 million and $46.1 million.

Of the two other nominees, the ensemble drama "Crash" is already out on home video, while official estimates for the Truman Capote saga "Capote" were not available. However, a rival studio estimated it made about $1 million, taking its total to about $23 million.

The Academy Awards will be handed out in Hollywood next Sunday.

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