By DAVID GERMAIN
The Associated Press
LOS ANGELES -- A make-believe son of the glorious nation of Kazakhstan continues to rule the American box office.
Sacha Baron Cohen's "Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan" took in $29 million to remain the No. 1 movie for a second straight weekend, distributor 20th Century Fox said Sunday. "Borat" raised its 10-day total to $67.8 million.
The top three movies remained unchanged from the previous weekend, with Disney's "The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause" still in second place with $16.9 million and the Paramount-DreamWorks animated tale "Flushed Away" in third with $16.7 million.
Sony's Will Ferrell comedy "Stranger Than Fiction" debuted as the best of the weekend's newcomers, placing fourth with $14.1 million. Ferrell plays a meek tax auditor suddenly able to hear the voice of a narrator (Emma Thompson) chronicling his life and impending death.
While 20th Century Fox could crow about "Borat," the studio's Russell Crowe-Ridley Scott reunion "A Good Year" flopped, coming in at No. 10 with $3.8 million.
Audiences were willing to accept Cohen as Borat, the Kazakh TV journalist he originated on "Da Ali G Show," who jumps to the big screen in a mock documentary about his journey across America.
Crudely funny and raucously satiric, "Borat" was a surprise winner at the box office with a $26.5 million opening weekend, even though it played in only 837 theaters, fewer than one-fourth the number of cinemas for "The Santa Clause 3" and "Flushed Away."
Some box-office analysts had questioned whether 20th Century Fox missed the boat by launching "Borat" in so few theaters, saying the movie could have rung up millions more on opening weekend if it had gone wider.
But Snyder said the buzz from the movie's huge debut proved a great prelude to wider release in its second weekend, when it expanded to 2,566 theaters.
"When a picture takes off like this, you can do it any way you want and you can't screw it up, quite honestly, when a picture becomes a part of the culture like this," Snyder said.
Expanding nationwide after two weekends in limited release, Paramount Vantage's drama "Babel" was No. 6 with $5.65 million. With an ensemble cast that includes Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett, "Babel" traces the repercussions of a shooting in the African desert on families around the globe.
Sarah Michelle Gellar's supernatural thriller "The Return" opened weakly with $4.8 million to come in at No. 8. Released by Focus Features, the movie was not screened beforehand for critics, generally a sign the distributor expects bad reviews.
MGM's "Harsh Times," a gritty street drama starring Christian Bale and Freddy Rodriguez, also had a poor debut of $1.8 million, finishing out of the top 10.
Estimated ticket sales for Friday through Sunday at U.S. and Canadian theaters, according to Exhibitor Relations Co. Inc. Final figures will be released Monday.
1. "Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan," $29 million.
2. "The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause," $16.9 million.
3. "Flushed Away," $16.7 million.
4. "Stranger Than Fiction," $14.1 million.
5. "Saw III," $6.6 million.
6. "Babel," $5.65 million.
7. "The Departed," $5.2 million.
8. "The Return," $4.8 million.
9. "The Prestige," $4.6 million.
10. "A Good Year," $3.8 million.
Universal Pictures and Focus Features are owned by NBC Universal, a joint venture of General Electric Co. and Vivendi Universal; Sony Pictures, Sony Screen Gems and Sony Pictures Classics are units of Sony Corp.; DreamWorks, Paramount and Paramount Classics are divisions of Viacom Inc.; Disney's parent is The Walt Disney Co.; Miramax is a division of The Walt Disney Co.; 20th Century Fox and Fox Searchlight Pictures are owned by News Corp.; Warner Bros., New Line, Warner Independent and Picturehouse are units of Time Warner Inc.; MGM is owned by a consortium of Providence Equity Partners, Texas Pacific Group, Sony Corp., Comcast Corp., DLJ Merchant Banking Partners and Quadrangle Group; Lionsgate is owned by Lionsgate Entertainment Corp.; IFC Films is owned by Rainbow Media Holdings, a subsidiary of Cablevision Systems Corp.