Weekend Box Office (November 4 - 6, 2011)

by Gitesh Pandya

THIS WEEKEND In a surprise upset, the animated comedy Puss in Boots held onto the box office crown thanks to an astonishingly strong hold in the second frame while the competing new comedies Tower Heist and A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas debuted in the silver and bronze positions, both performing on the lower end of expectations. The overall marketplace remained slow resulting in the worst gross for the first weekend of November in nine years.

Barely shedding any business from its softer-than-anticipated opening last week, the Shrek spinoff Puss in Boots grossed a stunning $33.1M this weekend, according to final studio estimates, making for a scant 3% decline. The low drop was caused by many factors including the opening frame being hurt by snowstorms and Halloween activities, plus strong word-of-mouth that helped the DreamWorks Animation hit pick up lost business now that the pumpkin holiday has passed. Many, including numerous Wall Street analysts, wrote off the $34.1M debut last week since it was one of the lowest bows ever for the animation giant. But DreamWorks and distribution partner Paramount are all smiles as the audience is coming now that it is more available. Puss averaged a remarkable $8,341 from 3,963 locations and saw its ten-day cume climb to a stellar $75.5M.

The Antonio Banderas-voiced film is now on course to reach at least $160M and could even approach the $200M mark if it can continue to show good legs this month. Declines are likely to get bigger next week, though. But still there is Veterans Day on Friday which is always a potent school holiday plus Thanksgiving coming up to help keep the cat going into December. Also the next major direct competitor doesn't debut until November 18 when Warner Bros rolls out its own 3D animal franchise toon Happy Feet Two. 3D screens contributed 48% of the weekend gross for Puss and IMAX helped too. Overseas, it grossed an additional $15M from just four markets upping the early total to $39M with most major territories yet to open. International appeal is sizable and the overseas appetite for 3D toons is huge so a robust global tally is likely by year's end.

Widely expected to debut on top, Universal's final release of the year Tower Heist instead opened in second place with $24M finishing the frame on the low end of industry expectations. The PG-13 pic starring Ben Stiller and Eddie Murphy as leaders of a group trying to rob a wealthy criminal's penthouse averaged a good $7,135 from 3,367 locations. But the first weekend of November kicks off the busy holiday moviegoing season and big star-driven comedies with broad appeal often show more muscle. Produced for $85M, Heist also starred Casey Affleck, Alan Alda, Matthew Broderick, Téa Leoni, Michael Peña, Judd Hirsch, and Gabourey Sidibe with top-dollar filmmakers Brett Ratner and Brian Grazer directing and producing, respectively.

Reviews were mixed but generally upbeat on Tower Heist, but paying customers gave only a CinemaScore grade of B. Females made up 56% of the audience while 62% were 30 and older. Stiller and Murphy have both seen larger debuts with their past comedies and combining the two into one film opened the door to growing the upfront fan base for the film. Heist will now have to hope it can have legs although a mediocre audience grade and a competing mainstream comedy from the always reliable Adam Sandler this Friday (Jack and Jill) will make it tough.

Opening in third place was the second new comedy of the frame - A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas - which collected $13M which fell a bit below expectations. The bow was 12% lower than the $14.9M debut of its predecessor Harold & Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay from April 2008. Warner Bros. averaged a mild $4,506 from 2,875 theaters and with most screens offering the extra dimension, the 3D share of the gross was a very high 95%. Reviews were good for Christmas but moviegoers were not as impressed as the R-rated film earned a B grade from opening day patrons, according to CinemaScore. Saturday sales slumped 13% while all other films in the top ten went up by at least 20%. As expected, young men made up the prime audience with 62% being male and 73% being under 35. Young males have become extremely difficult to attract this year and high 3D ticket prices have scared away many potential audiences from films that are not part of a top-level brand like Harry Potter or Transformers. Both of these factors became challenges for Harold & Kumar which was fairly inexpensive to produce with a $20M budget.

The horror threequel Paranormal Activity 3 fell another 54% to $8.3M putting Paramount at $95.1M after 17 days of play. The low budget chiller is now running 24% ahead of its predecessor from last fall. Fox's sci-fi thriller In Time followed with $7.5M, down 38%, for a $24M ten-day total. The dance remake Footloose remained incredibly strong with its female audience easing a slim 19% to $4.5M. Paramount has collected $44.7M to date.

Rounding out the top ten were four winners of the oh-so-prestigious Sexiest Man Alive award from People magazine. Hugh Jackman's leggy robot boxing hit Real Steel dipped a mere 28% to $3.4M in its fifth round for a $78.8M cume for Disney. The Johnny Depp flop The Rum Diary continued to be ignored by audiences taking in $2.9M, down 43%, giving FilmDistrict a puny $10.4M in ten days. A $15M final seems likely for the rookie distributor which is now going through a reorganization of its executive ranks.

Ocean's Eleven pals George Clooney and Brad Pitt followed with $1.9M for The Ides of March and $1.8M for Moneyball. Both Sony titles held up very well with declines of 31% and 25% respectively and now stand at $36.7M and $70.2M.

There was no shortage of activity in the specialty marketplace as numerous films expanded into new cities hoping to become players in this winter's awards race. Paramount's romantic drama Like Crazy widened from four to 16 sites and grossed $266,514 for a terrific $16,657 in its second weekend of play. Fox Searchlight's Martha Marcy May Marlene expanded from 32 to 98 theaters for $455,772 and $4,651 average. Totals stand at $444,510 and $1M, respectively with more markets to come.

The Wall Street thriller Margin Call went from 140 to 178 playdates in its third round and grossed $718,321 for a $4,036 average. Roadside Attractions has taken in $2.5M from the Kevin Spacey-Zachary Quinto pic even though it is also available to audiences at home on VOD and other digital platforms. With Antonio Banderas topping the charts two weeks in a row with his kid-friendly toon, the actor's darker adult drama The Skin I Live In continued to invade more arthouses with $328,372 from 78 sites for a $4,210 average. The Pedro Almodovar pic from Sony Classics played in 31 locations last weekend and has now banked $1.3M. Big Sony doubled the run of its Shakespeare thriller Anonymous which has fared poorly in the U.S. with $1.2M from 513 theaters for a dull $2,404 average and $2.7M total.

The top ten films grossed $100.4M which was down a sharp 27% from last year when Megamind debuted in the top spot with $46M; and off 3% from 2009 when A Christmas Carol opened at number one with $30.1M.

Compared to projections, Tower Heist and A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas each debuted a couple of notches below my respective forecasts of $29M and $16M.

Get earlier box office updates and analysis by following BoxOfficeGuru.com on Twitter.

Watch the NEW trailer for Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol.

For NEW reviews of Tower Heist and A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas visit The Chief Report. For a NEW DVD review of Winnie the Pooh then click here.

Be sure to check back on Thursday for a complete summary, including projections, for next weekend when Jack and Jill, Immortals and J. Edgar all open nationwide.

Marketplace - Shop for DVDs, electronics, books, and posters at discounted prices:

# Title Nov 4 - 6 Oct 28 - 30 % Chg. Theaters Weeks AVG Cumulative Distributor
1 Puss in Boots $ 33,054,644 $ 34,077,439 -3.0 3,963 2 $ 8,341 $ 75,527,682 Paramount
2 Tower Heist 24,025,190 3,367 1 7,135 24,025,190 Universal
3 A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas 12,954,142 2,875 1 4,506 12,954,142 Warner Bros.
4 Paranormal Activity 3 8,333,691 18,144,516 -54.1 3,286 3 2,536 95,116,745 Paramount
5 In Time 7,481,592 12,050,368 -37.9 3,127 2 2,393 23,990,237 Fox
6 Footloose 4,470,135 5,502,026 -18.8 2,811 4 1,590 44,719,755 Paramount
7 Real Steel 3,436,086 4,783,149 -28.2 2,438 5 1,409 78,779,328 Disney
8 The Rum Diary 2,920,481 5,135,369 -43.1 2,292 2 1,274 10,356,215 FilmDistrict
9 The Ides of March 1,938,197 2,804,435 -30.9 1,391 5 1,393 36,738,482 Sony
10 Moneyball 1,786,441 2,387,049 -25.2 1,278 7 1,398 70,213,831 Sony
11 The Three Musketeers 1,698,634 3,507,359 -51.6 1,863 3 912 18,047,630 Summit
12 Courageous 1,539,563 1,838,096 -16.2 1,138 6 1,353 29,951,296 Sony
13 Anonymous 1,233,006 1,021,768 20.7 513 2 2,404 2,683,332 Sony
14 Dolphin Tale 1,022,266 1,633,429 -37.4 1,105 7 925 68,617,383 Warner Bros.
15 50/50 953,636 1,408,150 -32.3 747 6 1,277 32,974,877 Summit
16 Margin Call 718,321 721,316 -0.4 178 3 4,036 2,516,831 Roadside Attr.
17 Johnny English Reborn 676,245 1,693,915 -60.1 644 3 1,050 7,725,155 Universal
18 Martha Marcy May Marlene 455,772 248,225 83.6 98 3 4,651 1,021,024 Fox Searchlight
19 R.A. One 384,362 1,654,023 -76.8 189 2 2,034 2,229,372 Eros
20 The Help 333,158 392,658 -15.2 358 13 931 167,427,819 Disney
Top 5 $ 85,849,259 $ 74,909,718 14.6
Top 10 100,400,599 90,229,806 11.3
Top 20 109,415,562 100,368,472 9.0
Top 20 vs. 2010 109,415,562 147,648,999 -25.9

Last Updated: November 7, 2011 at 6:00PM ET

Watch Gitesh Pandya's weekly box office preview on CNN International airing live each Thursday at 7:40pm ET.