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Old 17th Aug 2009, 11:31 AM   #1
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Lightbulb District 9: The summer's dark horse is riding high at the US box office

The sci-fi thriller has become a runaway success, thanks to storming marketing and the mighty Peter Jackson

The winner
Resoundingly. Gloriously. District 9 took the crown at the weekend, leading the pack by a country mile, thanks to an excellent $37m (£22.5m) opening weekend, made all the more remarkable by the fact that the film has no known stars.

Admittedly it is aided by the heft of Peter Jackson, who used his influence to get Sony interested and take a punt on his protégé, South African film-maker Neill Blomkamp. Under Jackson's tutelage Blomkamp had been preparing to direct Halo, a big-screen version of the video game hit that Fox and Universal were on board to finance until said studios pulled out. At that point the friends figured decided to adapt the young director's short film Alive in Joberg. The result is a sci-fi parable about monstrous humans and humane monsters that started an avalanche of good reviews and sailed to the top of the charts thanks to the critics, a timely promotion at Comic-Con last month, and easily the best marketing campaign of the year so far. Sony adorned bus shelters and billboards with posters of alien silhouettes crossed through, recreating the segregation vibe that the film-makers play on in District 9. It will be intriguing to see whether the geeks abandon it entirely next week for Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds or go and see it a second time.

The loser
Based on percentage drops it has to be GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra. Last weekend's champ took a 59% tumble to second place, adding $22.5m for $98.8m. Drops-offs in the 60% region have become de rigeur this summer, and you have to be a giant film to withstand such a loss in revenue. Harry Potter could do it, but GI Joe is considerably smaller and really wanted to soar past $100m in its second weekend to become a mega-hit. That's not the case here, although it's closing in on $200m worldwide and that's nothing to sniff at. Still, you can't help thinking that Paramount would have wanted a little bit more from its late summer release. Universal's comedy Funny People dropped out of the top 10 in its third weekend and has grossed a measly $47.9m.

The real story
Weekend box office in North America bounced back thanks to District 9 and the marketing nous of Sony. This is the second solid performance for unexpected contenders that the studio has put out in two weeks after Julie & Julia, which has grossed a very respectable $43.7m after two weekends and ranks fourth. Ticket sales for the weekend climbed 14% against the same weekend in 2008 and that keeps 2009's hopes of becoming the biggest year ever firmly on course.

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