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your box office explained

Your Box Office Explained: Sandler Beats Bieber by a Hair

This Weekend's Winners: As the sun set last night, it appeared that Sony’s Adam Sandler romantic comedy Just Go With It ($31 million) had prevailed over Paramount’s Justin Bieber concert documentary Never Say Never ($29.3 million) by just a prepubescent whisker, but cautious news outlets like The Wall Street Journal and the Los Angeles Times both wisely stressed that the two films could change places come Monday, when actual results are tabulated (thank you, Bush v. Gore!). The only thing truly clear is that Disney’s Gnomeo and Juliet proved that the course of true love can occasionally run smoothly, grossing a tall $25.5 million.

This Weekend's Losers: Channing Tatum’s The Eagle ($8.6 million) did not soar, and its lackluster exit polling (CinemaScore rating: C+) means it has a bright future behind it.

How It All Went Down: As we reported late Friday, the aptly named Paramount label Insurge proved itself highly insurgent: Bieber had a real chance at eclipsing Sandler, who for years has been as close to a license to print money as Hollywood enjoyed.

How did Sandler get his eleventh No. 1 opening in a row? This time 'round, his win must be attributed as much to his vast footprint as to his broad appeal. Just Go With It enjoyed a more than 700-screen advantage, playing as it did at over 400 more theaters than Never Say Never; clearly, as they’re separated by only $700,000, it made all the difference in bragging rights — at least, for now.

But that is to ask the wrong question; a better one is, How did Never Say Never come so close to defeating him? After all, to call director John Chu’s pop-umentary a “one-quadrant” movie would be to vastly overstate its appeal: In fact, Bieber’s legions are drawn from a hyperspecific octant — girls, ages 5 to 13. Consider: While 58 percent of the Just Go With It audience was female, and 60 percent was aged 25 years and up, Never Say Never was overwhelmingly young girls: Per Paramount, 84 percent was female, and just over two-thirds of them (67 percent) were under 25 years old (way under 25).

The Never Say Never secret weapon? 3-D. The Bieb’s downy-cheeked face is just thismuch closer to the reaching, sweaty palms of your screaming tween when projected in three dimensions, and a whopping 84 percent of Never Say Never admissions were sold with a 3-D premium tacked on.

Finally, kids too callow to understand what all the Bieber-shrieking was about were simply happy to be carted off to the first family movie to hit theaters since Christmas: Clearly, it’s no coincidence that the largest two demographics of Gnomeo were of equal size: Very young kids, ages 2 to 11 (36 percent), and their chauffeuring chaperones, adults 26 to 49 (yet another 36 percent of its audience) proved that shopworn Travelocity jingle true: When you’re half-grown, you never "roam alone."

Photo: Sony Pictures, Columbia Pictures