This was a good weekend at the box office if your movie's title started with the letters J-U-S-T. At press time, Adam Sandler's 'Just Go With It' and concert doc 'Justin Bieber: Never Say Never' were neck and neck, with early estimates giving Sandler a slight edge during the Friday-to-Sunday frame, though Thursday previews gave the Biebs a barely higher total gross to date.
When final numbers are released on Monday, their positions could switch, but right now, it looks like Sandler's 'Just Go With it' had the bigger weekend, with an estimated $31.0 million. That's a pretty typical opening for Sandler, though it does mark the best debut for co-star Jennifer Aniston since the $36.4 million premiere for 'Marley & Me' in 2008. The romantic comedy might have done even better had Valentine's Day not fallen on a Monday this year.
Bieber was one floppy lock of hair behind Sandler for the weekend, and about one strand of hair ahead for the total gross since opening. From Friday to Sunday, studio estimates place the teen pop heartthrob's movie at $30.3 million. But add in its take from early screenings on Thursday, and 'Never Say Never's' estimated total is $3,000 ahead of 'Just Go With It'. Whether the film will have legs is uncertain - movies like this tend to get most of their audience the first weekend - but for now, Bieber is giving Sandler a run for his money.
'Gnomeo & Juliet' enjoyed a strong third place debut with an estimated $25.5 million. That's a lot better than the movie was expected to do, with predictions running at about $15 million. The cartoon had a long and troubled production history and only a middling marketing push from Disney, but it was helped by strong reviews, the 3-D surcharge, a familiar Elton John soundtrack to appeal to grownups, and a relative absence of other family fare at the multiplex.
'The Eagle,' the weekend's fourth new wide release, didn't fly nearly as high. The sword-and-sandals adventure earned just an estimated $8.6 million, perhaps because it was going after the same young male audience as 'Just Go With It,' or because there are still two or three other strong action movies still in multiplexes, or because Channing Tatum simply isn't a leading man who can open a movie yet, unlike Sandler, Bieber, and an animated lawn gnome.
Last week's champ, 'The Roommate,' fell to fifth place with an estimated $8.4 million. That's a 44 percent drop from its opening weekend, typical for a mid-level thriller like this. Its two-weekend total stands at $26.1 million.
The full top 10:
1. 'Just Go With It,' $31.0 million (3,548 screens), new release
2. 'Justin Bieber: Never Say Never,' $30.3 million (3,105), $31.0 million total
3. 'Gnomeo & Juliet,' $25.5 million (2,994), new release
4. 'The Roommate,' $15.6 million (2,534), $26.1 million
5. 'The Eagle,' $8.4 million (2,296), new release
6. 'The King's Speech,' $7.4 million (2,263), $93.9 million
7. 'No Strings Attached,' $5.6 million (2,756), $59.9 million
8. 'Sanctum,' $5.1 million (2,789), $17.5 million
9. 'True Grit,' $3.8 million (2,072), $160.3 million
10. 'The Green Hornet,' $2.6 million (2,090), $92.3 million
•Follow Gary Susman on Twitter @garysusman.