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your box office explained

Your Box Office Explained: The Social Network Pokes America’s Wallets

This Weekend's Winners: Sony’s The Social Network made lots of friends, and Paramount Vantage’s David Guggenheim doc Waiting for Superman continued to do well in limited release. Honorable Mention: Zack Snyder’s Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole retained an astonishing 66 percent of its opening-weekend audience, a sign it’s playing well with the few kids who’ve gone to see it. Also: Screen Gem’s Emma Stone comedy Easy A, which similarly only lost 34 percent of last weekend’s audience, was good for almost $43 million in total box office.

This Weekend's Losers: Paramount’s moldy Case 39 and Overture’s bloody Let Me In both flopped.

How it all went down: What can be said about The Social Network that hasn't been already? Let’s pierce the media soufflé to find out: A $23 million opening from a little over 2,750 theaters is just dandy, but then again, Social Network is no ordinary film. This was our Citizen Kane, if you believe critics, or, at the least, "the Citizen Kane of John Hughes movies," if you believe its director, David Fincher. (Either way, let’s hope not: Citizen Kane lost $150,000 for RKO during its initial theatrical run.)

Only in Hollywood can the meeting of the higher end of a studio’s expectations be viewed as underperformance: For weeks now, NRG tracking had suggested a Howard Dean–like popularity for Network, with it expected to play particularly robustly in the coastal, "blue state" areas, and less so as it approached the interior portions of 'Merica.

Still, Sony was quick to point out that despite the media frenzy, The Social Network is doing just great for an adult drama opening in the fall. For example, exit polling showed only 55 percent of its audience was 25 and older, which shows that the film is also playing well with younger audiences. (Likewise, Cinemascore ratings offered a similarly positive sign with respect to youth reception: Network received a B+ Cinemascore overall, but scored an A- from the 18-and-under crowd.)

And to be sure, Sony worked hard to friend the under-25 set, sending out screenwriter Aaron Sorkin on a multi-city college tour to win young hearts and minds, and pointing out that its official fan page on MySpace has nearly 2.4 million fans — a factoid likely to annoy both Facebook and MySpace executives.

Meanwhile, despite being (a) based on a hit Swedish book and hit 2008 foreign film (Låt den rätte komma in), and (b) being stuffed with vampires, Overture Film’s Let Me In had the door slammed in its face, with its hard R rating standing between it and teen audiences. (No wonder, then, that Universal Pictures recently opted to shelve development of its equally bloody, R-rated Dracula: Year One.) Let Me In managed only an eighth-place finish, with just $5.3 million on some 2,000 screens.

Likewise meeting an ugly fate was horror flick Case 39, in which you might say stars like Bradley Cooper were “slumming” — were it not for the fact that production on this genre stinker actually began back in 2006, three years before The Hangover. In the end, Case 39 missed five release dates in four years, and likely might have been better served if it had missed this one, too.

Finally, on to the specialty market. Let's hear it for the docs!

Davis Guggenheim’s education documentary Waiting for Superman continued to earn straight As, scoring the highest per-theater average of any film currently in release — and that includes The Social Network. True, Superman is only in 34 venues, but it averaged nearly $12,000 per engagement, bringing its gross to just shy of $600,000.

So, too, with Arial Schulman and Henry Joost's Catfish, which landed $607,000 this weekend, a third more than it made last weekend, thanks to its leap from almost 60 to nearly 140 screens this past weekend.

Photo: Sony