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    Knowing Scares Off Bromance, Julia Roberts

    Nicolas Cage, Knowing VINCE VALITUTTI/Summit Entertainment

    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:

    1. Knowing, $24.8 million
    2. I Love You, Man, $18 million
    3. Duplicity, $14.4 million
    4. Race to Witch Mountain, $13 million
    5. Watchmen, $6.7 million
    6. The Last House on the Left, $5.9 million
    7. Taken, $4.1 million
    8. Slumdog Millionaire, $2.7 million
    9. Tyler Perry's Madea Goes to Jail, $2.5 million
    10. Coraline, $2.1 million

    (Originally published March 22, 2009, at 10:06 a.m. PT)