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Back at the beginning of the summer, few people (myself included) pegged Quentin Tarantino’s World War II flick Inglorious Basterds as a breakout box-office hit.  Not only did Tarantino’s last film–the double feature Grindhouse–completely tank at the box office, but Brad Pitt’s track record has also been uneven of late, suggesting that his star power may have dimmed.  As it turns out, all the naysayers were wrong.  Basterds catapulted to the top of the charts this weekend, earning $37.6 million–Tarantino’s highest-grossing debut ever and Pitt’s best opening since Ocean’s Thirteen, where he was surrounded by dozens of other A-list stars.  If word of mouth continues to be positive, the movie has a strong shot at becoming the first Tarantino picture to cross the $100 mark since Pulp Fiction set that record way back in 1994.  Anyone wanna take bets on when we’ll be seeing More Inglorious Basterds?

Last week’s top-earner District 9 continued to draw crowds in its second weekend, boosting its total gross to $73.4 million.  Those GI Joe grunts are still capturing moviegoers’ dollars as well as The Rise of Cobra finished in the top three and stands at $120.5 million.  That may not be Transformers-style numbers, but its good enough to ensure that Paramount grants the Joes a second mission.

Tarantino’s Grindhouse partner Robert Rodriguez didn’t bounce back from that disaster quite as well.  The director’s kid-friendly feature Shorts opened to an anemic $6.6 million for a sixth-place finish.  That was good enough to put it ahead of the two other family movies currently in the marketplace–Jerry Bruckheimer’s G-Force and Miyazaki’s Ponyo–but far below Rodriguez’s successful Spy Kids series.  The weekend’s other new release, the teen comedy Post Grad, just barely finished in the Top Ten, grossing a measly $2.8 million on its way to DVD and cable TV.

The full Top Ten is below courtesy of  Next week, two horror movies sneak into theaters looking to take down the Basterds.  Will the victor by Michael Myers in Halloween II or the Grim Reaper from The Final Destination?  Place your bets now.

The Top Ten: August 21-23, 2009

1. Inglorious Basterds: $37.6

2. District 9: $18.9/$73.4

3. GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra: $12.5/$120.5

4. The Time Traveler’s Wife: $10/$37.4

5. Julie & Julia: $9/$59.2

6. Shorts: $6.6

7. G-Force: $4.2/$107.3

8. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince: $3.5/$290.2

9. The Ugly Truth: $2.9/$82.8

10. Post Grad: $2.8