Weekend Box Office (November 25 - 27, 2011)

by Gitesh Pandya

THIS WEEKEND A hot leftover ruled the Thanksgiving holiday frame despite the opening of three new dishes all aimed at kids and families. The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 1 tumbled 70% in its second weekend but still sold enough tickets to lead the competition with $41.7M over the Friday-to-Sunday period, according to final studio figures. Across the five-day Wednesday-to-Sunday session, the Summit blockbuster pulled in $61.9M bringing the ten-day total to a stellar $220.8M. The drop was identical to the decline that New Moon suffered two years ago on the same weekend. The latest Bella-Edward story is running 4% behind the domestic pace of New Moon which is not bad for the fourth film in a series. But thanks to an accelerated global release schedule, Breaking Dawn's current international cume of $268M (including $71.5M this weekend) is 10% ahead of New Moon's at the same point in time. Worldwide, the new saga's $489M is 3% ahead of Moon which ended its run with $713M.

A six-pack of PG-rated films filled up most of the next seven slots as studios all jumped in hoping to grab the attention of families over the long weekend. The marketplace expands over the Thanksgiving frame, but with a flood of product all aiming for the same ticket buyers, not all films survived.

Leading the way with a terrific opening was Disney's The Muppets which debuted in second place with $29.2M over the Friday-to-Sunday period and $41.5M over the five-day holiday session starting Wednesday. The critically acclaimed film about the popular puppet group reuniting in order to save their studio averaged a fantastic $8,500 from 3,440 locations over the three-day period and is well-positioned for the rest of the holiday season. Reviews were outstanding and audiences put their thumbs up too as Muppets earned an encouraging A CinemaScore grade which bodes well for word-of-mouth. The numbers were especially impressive given that there were no boosts from 3D or IMAX. Also of note was the film's low reported production cost of only $45M. An extensive and unorthodox marketing push helped Muppets reach a broad spectrum of audiences including kids and adults that remembered the classic television series.

Suffering the worst decline of any holdover in the top ten, the 3D penguin toon Happy Feet Two dropped 37% to $13.4M and got hit hard by all the new choices for families. By comparison, Thanksgiving weekend drops for recent holdover kidpics were 22% for last year's Megamind, 17% for 2009's Planet 51, 9% for the 2008 sequel Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa, and 11% for the first Happy Feet in 2006. The sequel has grossed $43.8M in its first ten days trailing its predecessor by a troubling 56% despite having five years of ticket price increases plus 3D surcharges. Looking at admissions, the new installment has only sold about one-third as many tickets over the same time period. A genuine lack of excitement coupled with bad reviews led to a soft debut and now lukewarm buzz and a wide selection of other options for the target audience has led to moviegoers going elsewhere for their family fun. The road ahead seems grim.

Also suffering from an overcrowded marketplace for kidpics was the yuletide toon Arthur Christmas which bowed to $12.1M from 3,376 sites for a weak $3,575 average. Over five days the Sony release collected $16.3M and had to deal with rival family films. In fact, the frame's two other new wide releases Muppets and Hugo each generated a per-theater average that was more than twice as big as Arthur's. However, the road ahead looks rosy for a number of reasons. Reviews were terrific, audience feedback was good with the CinemaScore grade being an A-, and the Christmas storyline will only become more relevant in the coming weeks.

Yuletide kidpics opening in November typically enjoy good legs for weeks while collapsing after December 25. Arthur could patiently sit in multiplexes and reach audiences once they've already seen the more high-profile offerings like Muppets. Studio research showed that 59% of the crowd was female while 69% was 25 and older. A British production, Arthur Christmas has already been taking in sales overseas and grossed an estimated $11.9M this weekend from 24 territories for an international total of $22.3M (including $12.7M from the U.K.) and a worldwide take so far of $39M.

Martin Scorsese opened his latest film Hugo in fifth place with $11.4M over three days and a five-day score of $15.4M. It was a strong showing for a film only playing in 1,277 locations as the three-day average of $8,899 was quite impressive. The 3D period film was loved by film critics and despite a slow start with just $1.7M on Wednesday, grew over time thanks to solid buzz to post a fantastic showing over the long weekend as it had to compete with so many other PG-rated films aimed at families. The Oscar winner's first 3D film made remarkable use of the format which moviegoers also responded to as 76% of the gross came from 3D screens. Hugo's good word-of-mouth could help keep it going over the weeks ahead, although profitability will take time given the enormous budget of the effects-filled picture reported to be north of $150M.

Adam Sandler's Jack and Jill followed with $10M, off only 15%, for a $57.1M cume for Sony. Relativity's adventure film Immortals dropped 28% to $8.9M boosting the 17-day total to $68.7M.

The 3D toon Puss in Boots fell 31% to $7.5M and has collected $135.4M after its fifth weekend of play. Add in overseas sales of $61.7M and the cat flick has reached $197M worldwide. Universal enjoyed a 1% uptick for its action-comedy Tower Heist which took in $7.2M for a $65.2M domestic total. The global tally reached the century club with $36.1M from international territories for a worldwide sum of $101M.

The George Clooney awards contender The Descendants pulled off a successful expansion widening from 29 sites last weekend to 433 locations over the holiday frame resulting in three-day gross of $7.3M for a sizzling $16,965 average. Fox Searchlight has banked $10.9M so far and has lots more to go with glowing reviews and positive word-of-mouth sparking more interest. With no real direct competition in the top ten for sophisticated adults, Descendants connected with its target crowd and hopes to win over broader appeal. The film had a planned expansion for December 9 but will now widen a week earlier, this Friday, given the solid demand from theaters in numerous markets that want to open the picture right away.

Fox got some strong buzz going for its Cameron Crowe drama We Bought a Zoo starring Matt Damon thanks to roughly 800 sneak previews on Saturday. The studio reported sell outs in all types of markets throughout the heartland and the coasts with an average capacity of 70-75%. The PG-rated film skewed towards adult women with females making up 57% of the crowd and 65% being 25 and older. An incredibly high 95% of those polled rated the film as "excellent" or "very good" so positive feedback is already building. Zoo still has a long way to go until its opening weekend as it debuts over a crowded Christmas frame on December 23 when there will be an overabundance of product playing to mature adults.

The Michelle Williams film My Week With Marilyn, which has been attracting plenty of Oscar buzz for the actress, debuted outside of the top ten in moderate limited release and saw respectable, though not outstanding, results. The Weinstein Co. release bowed to $1.8M in 244 theaters for a three-day average of $7,174. The five-day cume since opening on Wednesday was $2.1M. Reviews have been generally good for the film, but exceptional for Williams' performance as Marilyn Monroe. The opening coincided with the expansion of The Descendants which played to much of the same crowd so competition was a factor.

The distributor also opened another film this weekend, the silent movie saga The Artist, which enjoyed an explosive platform debut with $204,878 from four houses for a scorching $51,220 average. The PG-13 film earned glowing reviews across the board from critics. David Cronenberg's latest A Dangerous Method also debuted in four locations and grossed $167,953 for a muscular $41,988 average for Sony Classics. Both films will slowly widen their runs in December.

The top ten films grossed $148.7M which was down 11% from last year's Thanksgiving holiday when Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 stayed in the top spot with $49.1M; and down 14% from 2009 when The Twilight Saga: New Moon remained at number one with $42.9M.

Compared to Friday-to-Sunday projections, The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 1 was on target with my $41M forecast while The Muppets came in a little below my $31M prediction. Arthur Christmas debuted below my $14M projection and Hugo debuted ahead of my $8M forecast.

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

Check the chart for the Top Opening Weekends of All-Time. Watch the trailer for Titanic 3D.

For a review of Breaking Dawn Part 1 visit The Chief Report.

Be sure to check back on Thursday for a complete summary, including projections, for next weekend.

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# Title Nov 25 - 27 Nov 18 - 20 % Chg. Theaters Weeks AVG Cumulative Distributor
1 The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Pt. 1 $ 41,683,574 $ 138,122,261 -69.8 4,066 2 $ 10,252 $ 220,832,009 Summit
2 The Muppets 29,239,026 3,440 1 8,500 41,516,691 Disney
3 Happy Feet Two 13,397,346 21,237,068 -36.9 3,611 2 3,710 43,755,357 Warner Bros.
4 Arthur Christmas 12,068,931 3,376 1 3,575 16,301,131 Sony
5 Hugo 11,364,505 1,277 1 8,899 15,402,042 Paramount
6 Jack and Jill 10,000,142 11,738,573 -14.8 3,029 3 3,301 57,120,112 Sony
7 Immortals 8,875,905 12,351,959 -28.1 2,677 3 3,316 68,706,981 Relativity
8 Puss in Boots 7,511,036 10,804,311 -30.5 3,005 5 2,500 135,430,092 Paramount
9 The Descendants 7,345,720 1,190,096 517.2 433 2 16,965 10,886,952 Fox Searchlight
10 Tower Heist 7,174,615 7,105,045 1.0 2,474 4 2,900 65,198,780 Universal
11 J. Edgar 4,975,172 5,928,120 -16.1 1,910 3 2,605 28,837,843 Warner Bros.
12 My Week With Marilyn 1,750,507 244 1 7,174 2,062,150 Weinstein Co.
13 A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas 1,594,054 2,902,434 -45.1 875 4 1,822 31,559,389 Warner Bros.
14 In Time 775,107 1,710,692 -54.7 457 5 1,696 35,050,934 Fox
15 Like Crazy 425,116 522,352 -18.6 150 4 2,834 2,478,434 Paramount
16 Real Steel 330,377 553,871 -40.4 262 8 1,261 83,181,049 Disney
17 Melancholia 329,622 337,530 -2.3 95 3 3,470 1,200,599 Magnolia
18 The Help 311,076 297,702 4.5 283 16 1,099 168,753,480 Disney
19 Footloose 288,787 861,189 -66.5 384 7 752 50,833,867 Paramount
20 Moneyball 285,687 512,387 -44.2 187 9 1,528 73,155,248 Sony
Top 5 $ 107,753,382 $ 194,254,172 -44.5
Top 10 148,660,800 213,090,559 -30.2
Top 20 159,726,305 218,577,367 -26.9
Top 20 vs. Thanksgiving 2010 159,726,305 177,446,195 -10.0

Last Updated: November 28, 2011 at 5:40PM ET

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