Nyuk Nyuk! The Hunger Games Eye-pokes The Three Stooges

Katniss wins a fourth consecutive weekend. Her latest victims: the Farrelly brothers' revival of the Stooges franchise and the kids in The Cabin in the Woods

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Murray Close

After four rounds of combat, Katniss Everdeen is still undefeated. The teen archer of The Hunger Games took down some new challengers — The Three Stooges, The Cabin in the Woods and Lockout — to win the weekend at North American theaters with $21.5 million, according to preliminary studio estimates. The bucolic action film is the first picture to be No. 1 in four consecutive weekends since James Cameron’s Avatar (which totaled seven straight wins), and only the sixth movie to fourpeat in the top slot — the others being Saving Private Ryan, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Meet the Parents, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King and Avatar — since Cameron’s Titanic registered 15 weekends in a row in 1997-98. In 24 days, The Hunger Games has accrued $337.1 million at domestic theaters and another $194 million abroad for a $531.1 million worldwide cume.

The odds are not in the movie’s favor to take a fifth weekend: Friday’s debuts of the romantic drama The Lucky One and the ensemble comedy Think Like a Man should end Katniss’s streak. And it won this frame only because of the modest openings of the competition. For just the second weekend in 2012, the box-office total was down from the same period last year — 11% — when the animated feature Rio opened to $39.2 million, a figure higher than the combined grosses of The Three Stooges ($17.1 million), The Cabin in the Woods ($14.85 million) and Lockout ($6.25 million). Even the runner-up movie a year ago, Scream 4, pulled in more money ($18.7 million) than any of this weekend’s new entries.

(READ: The Hunger Games on the Top 10 List of Censored Books)

Still, Fox is proclaiming a win for Peter and Bobby Farrelly’s homage to the knockabout comedy team that made nearly 200 short films from 1934 to 1958. In gestation for more than a decade, The Three Stooges was originally to star Benicio Del Toro, Sean Penn and Jim Carrey as Moe, Larry and Curly; finally the Farrellys went with the virtually no-star trio of Chris Diamantopoulos, Sean Hayes and Will Sasso. The movie’s audience, 58% male, gave it a weak B-minus rating from the CinemaScore survey firm, but a sterling A-minus from moviegoers under 25 and an angelic “A” from those under 18. The $17.1-million opening, on a thrifty $30-million production investment, allows Fox and the Farrellys to dream of a Stooges sequel.

(READ: Corliss’s review of The Three Stooges)

Like Scream 4, The Cabin in the Woods qualifies as a meta-horror comedy — a cunning construct with as many winks and nudges in the audience’s general direction as scares and screams. It’s the evil brainchild of director-cowriter Drew Goddard, who wrote the 2008 found-footage horror film Cloverfield and shot Cabin three years ago in Vancouver; the crumbling finances of its sponsor, MGM, delayed the release till now.

(READ: Critics Find The Cabin Frightfully Fun)

A favorite of critics (92% on Rotten Tomatoes), The Cabin in the Woods harbored too many plot twists for reviewers to say much more than “Take my word, it’s really good.” Despite the significant fan base for producer-cowriter Joss Whedon (Buffy, Angel, Dollhouse and Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog, plus the forthcoming Marvel epic The Avengers), the new movie’s CinemaScore rating was just this side of libelous: a C overall, and a D-plus from females. The film did earn more on Saturday than on Friday, rare for a horror film, so it may have a shelf life of a few more days before joining the list of critics’ pets (Kick-Ass, Let Me In, etc.) that the mass audience never adopts.

(READ: Mary Pols’ review of The Cabin in the Woods)

Lockout, a macho science-fiction thriller about a secret agent (Guy Pearce) trying to rescue the President’s daughter (Maggie Grace) from interstellar rogues, couldn’t save itself on opening weekend, finishing a distant, dismal ninth. Much burlier were the international returns for the action film Battleship, director Peter Berg’s update of the venerable Milton Bradley board game. Starring John Carter’s Taylor Kitsch and Wrath of the Gods’ Liam Nesson, the movie roared out of the starting gate faster than either Carter or Wrath, earning $58 million in European and Asian theaters to roar. (Battleship opens in North America May 18.) The rerelease of Titanic, now in you-will-get-wet 3D, also opened to $58 million — in just one country, China. That record-breaking premiere, which tops the $55 million earned last year with Transformers: Dark of the Moon’s debut in the People’s Republic, brings the worldwide take of the T-Cameron revival to an impressive $190.8 million in less than two weeks.

(READ: Corliss’s review of the revived Titanic)

In limited U.S. release, the African-American kidnap drama Woman Thou Art Loosed!: On the 7th Day opened to $650,319 at 102 venues, for the weekend’s highest per-screen average. The Lady, Luc Besson’s stately bio-pic starring Michelle Yeoh as Burmese activist Aung San Suu Kyi, launched with a timid $39,600 on 19 screens. The newsworthy documentary Bully, now rated a kid-friendly PG-13, invaded 158 theaters and earned a healthy $534,000. But the big specialty hit of the weekend was La Traviata, latest in The Met: Live in HD series of Saturday-afternoon simulcasts. Starring Natalie Dessay as Violetta, the Willy Decker production lured $2.4-million worth of opera lovers to 850 North American theaters. In movies of high art or mass art, women ruled the box office.

(READ: Corliss’s reviews of The Lady and Bully

Here are the Sunday estimates of this weekend’s top-grossing pictures in North American theaters, as reported by Box Office Mojo:

1. The Hunger Games, $21.5 million; $337.1 million, fourth week
2. The Three Stooges, $17.1 million, first weekend
3. The Cabin in the Woods, $14.85 million, first weekend
4. Titanic, $11.6 million; $44.4 million, second week of rerelease
5. American Reunion, $10.7 million; $39.9 million, second week
6. Mirror Mirror, $7 million; $49.5 million, third week
7. Wrath of the Titans, $6.9 million; $71.3 million, third week
8. 21 Jump Street, $6.8 million; $120.6 million, fifth week
9. Lockout, $6.25 million, first weekend
10. Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax, $3 million; $204.5 million, seventh week