It has long been known in Hollywood circles that audiences just cannot resist a cute dog movie. And so the practical wisdom was proven again this weekend as “Marley & Me”, the ode to the Labrador Retriever, earned $37 million and the No. 1 spot at the box office over the weekend, according to studio estimates from Nielsen EDI.

The family film starring Owen Wilson and Jennifer Aniston as well as the lovable dog surpassed the offerings of leading men Brad Pitt, Tom Cruise, Samuel L. Jackson and Adam Sandler, each of whom opened a film over the holiday.

The leading men fought neck and neck for places two through four. Sandler’s family film “Bedtime Stories” took in $28 million over the weekend and $38.6 million over four days. Pitt’s “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” grossed a solid $27.2 million and $39 million since Christmas, nailing the third place slot. Cruise’s World War II thriller “Valkyrie” raked in $21.5 million over three days and $30 million over four.

The other major new release was Samuel L. Jackson’s “The Spirit”, an adaptation of the comic-book of the same name. The film came in ninth with $6.5 million over the weekend and $8.8 million since Christmas.

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The film industry had been suffering through a ticket sales slump in past weeks, marking some of the lowest ticket sales in years. But this weekend’s haul offered a nice holiday gift for Hollywood studios, which enjoyed their biggest three-day Christmas weekend ever with $204 million.

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Box Office Grosses
Week Ending December 28, 2008

Rank Title Weekend Total Gross
1 Marley & Me (2008) $37M $51.7M
2 Bedtime Stories (2008) $28.1M $38.6M
3 The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008) $27.2M $39M
4 Valkyrie (2008) $21.5M $30M
5 Yes Man (2008) $16.4M $49.6M
6 Seven Pounds (2008) $13.4M $39M
7 The Tale of Despereaux (2008) $9.37M $27.9M
8 The Day the Earth Stood Still (2008) $7.9M $63.6M
9 The Spirit (2008) $6.51M $10.3M
10 Doubt (2008) $5.67M $8.82M