In a three-way race at the box office, there was only one winner: Nicolas Cage's Knowing.
The thriller grossed an estimated $24.8 million, topping expectations and the weekend standings.
I Love You, Man, the trendy No. 1 pick going into Friday, opened in second, with $18 million. Duplicity, the supposed litmus test on Julia Roberts' career, was said to have put up solid numbers in Canada, which south of the border means the movie opened in third with a so-so $14.4 million.
Drilling down into the numbers:
• The jury's still out on Roberts. On one hand, Duplicity came in on the low end of projections. On the other, it outperformed writer/director Tony Gilroy's last movie, Michael Clayton, which grossed about $10 million in its first weekend of wide release in 2007. As Women & Hollywood blogger Melissa Silverstein argued in an interview last week, "No one said George Clooney's too old if that film didn't open big."
• Duplicity was Roberts' biggest opener, not counting the Ocean's Eleven franchise, since she stopped making Julia Roberts movies after America's Sweethearts in 2001.
• Is Jason Segel a jinx? Last year at about this time, Segel's Forgetting Sarah Marshall enjoyed considerable prerelease hype—only to record a second-place, $17.7 million debut.
• Well, maybe Segel isn't that much of a jinx. The $30 million Sarah Marshall did end up in the black, with a $63.2 million domestic gross.
• One potential troubling sign for I Love You, Man (or Paul Rudd) is that Rudd's last guy comedy, Role Models, opened stronger ($19.2 million) with less buzz.
• Knowing is Cage's fifth No. 1 movie since he entered his 40s.
• Last weekend's No. 1 film, Race to Witch Mountain ($13 million), fell to fourth, but held well, with ticket sales off less than 50 percent.
• Speaking of holding well, Watchmen ($6.7 million) didn't. Again.
• Remember how Watchmen, once optimistically compared to 300, looked like it was on track for a more modest Incredible Hulk run? After three weekends, the Hulk reboot had grossed about $116 million. In the same time, Watchmen has grossed about $98 million.
• A moment of silence for Paul Blart: Mall Cop ($1.9 million), the early savior of the 2009 box office, which departs the Top 10 after nine admirable weekends and a $141.1 million gross.
• He's Just Not That Into You ($1.3 million) is out of the Top 10 after six weekends, and an all-star $91.6 million gross.
• As Paul Blart and the other stars of winter have faded, so has Hollywood's recession-defying run. Where once the industry ran ahead of 2008 business by double digits, now it's "only" up by about 9 percent in ticket sales, and 7 percent in attendance.
• Valentino: The Last Emperor, the new documentary about the singular-named designer, scored the weekend's highest per-screen average, making $20,329 at one theater.
• Amy Adams' indie comedy Sunshine Cleaning moved up to 64 theaters, and stayed strong with a $705,161 take.
• The combined powers of Tom Hanks, Colin Hanks, John Malkovich and Emily Blunt couldn't net much more than $2,100 from each of the 55 theaters playing their new comedy, The Great Buck Howard ($117,000).
Here's a complete look at the weekend's top-grossing films based on Friday-Sunday estimates from Exhibitor Relations:
(Originally published March 22, 2009, at 10:06 a.m. PT)