‘Borat’ Is Box-Office Blockbuster — High Five!

Comedy earns $26.3 million in limited release, topping "Santa Clause 3" and "Flushed Away."

The Top Five

#1 “Borat” ($26.3 million)
#2 “The Santa Clause 3″ ($20 million)
#3 “Flushed Away” ($19.1 million)
#4 “Saw III” ($15.5 million)
#5 “The Prestige” ($8 million)

Very nice! Enjoy that catchphrase while you can because you will get sick of it. Why? Because the astounding opening of “Borat,” the film behind that and many other memorable new lines, signals that this film is the real deal at the box office — and could be for some time.

(Watch Borat’s stint as an MTV News correspondent, and see him introduce his favorite videos by Whitesnakes, Right Said Frederick and more.)

“Borat,” a film about the misadventures of a Kazakhstani reporter (Sacha Baron Cohen) journeying through the United States, is the big story at the box office right now and may stay that way through the end of the year. Opening in just 837 theaters (wide releases typically bow in more than 3,000), conventional wisdom had “Borat” perhaps vying for second place as it tried to gather strength on its way to a wider release. Instead, playing in just a quarter the number of screens as many of its competitors, “Borat” earned first-place honors. Now the question is: How huge will “Borat” be?

As “Borat” expands to a truly wide release, playing in towns traditionally thought to be less welcoming to edgy comedy, 20th Century Fox will certainly be anxiously awaiting the returns to see if this low budget ($18 million) comedy can become a true blockbuster.

Universal has to be nearly as happy as Fox this weekend. Late last week, Universal won the rights to Baron Cohen’s pseudo-sequel to “Borat,” a feature film devoted to Bruno, another of the Ali G star’s famed characters. The price tag of $42.5 million had some heads spinning at first, but now it looks to be the bargain of the year.

There were other films that opened this past weekend. Tim Allen’s holiday comedy “The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause” took in a somewhat disappointing $20 million, a sharp drop-off from 2002′s “The Santa Clause 2″ opening of $29 million. Landing in third was the animated comedy “Flushed Away” with $19.1 million, a middling take — perhaps furthering the case that there are just too many animated flicks being thrown at audiences today. Can Warner Brothers’ “Happy Feet” turn the tide? We know audiences love penguins, so maybe.

So How’d We Do?

Um, did we really say we were experts? Remember how “The Santa Clause 3″ was money in the bank — according to this editor and guest prognosticator, director Joe Carnahan (see “Projection Booth: Will The Joke Be On Borat — Or Santa Claus?” )? Yeah, that didn’t happen. On the plus side, MTV News writer Larry Carroll did in fact correctly predict “Borat” dominance, though even he underestimated its tally by more than $10 million.

Two weeks into our predictions, the standings are:

Prognosticator                          (weeks won)
Larry Carroll, MTV News writer           (1)
Josh Horowitz, MTV Movies editor      (0)
Celebrity guest                                (1)

In Perspective

The astonishing performance of a fictional — well, at least partly fictional (see “Was Pamela Anderson In On The Joke? A ‘Borat’ Investigation” ) — documentary like “Borat” got us to thinking about its predecessors in the genre, all the way back to Albert Brooks’ forgotten 1979 gem, “Real Life.” Take a look at how some of the most notable of these films performed at the box office (followed by that tally adjusted for inflation), and you will see that “Borat” is indeed in rare moneymaking territory.

»”Real Life” (1979) $300,000 ($850,000)
»”Zelig” (1983) $11.8 million ($22.5 million)
»”This is Spinal Tap” (1984) $4.7 million ($8.7 million)
»”The Blair Witch Project” (1999) $140.5 million ($160 million)
»”Best in Show” (2000) $18.7 million ($20.8 million)

Next Week

Russell Crowe trades in his gladiator gear for sweaters and swooning in the South of France in “A Good Year.” Speaking of playing against type, Will Ferrell gets a bit dramatic in “Stranger than Fiction.” And rounding out the contenders is “The Return,” the new horror flick starring Sarah Michelle Gellar — as opposed to “The Grudge 2″, the horror flick starring Sarah Michelle Gellar that opened a whole three weeks ago.

Check out everything we’ve got on “Borat”, “The Santa Clause 3″ and “Flushed Away.

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