Weekend Box Office (December 11 - 13, 2009)

by Gitesh Pandya

THIS WEEKEND Fairy tales came true as mothers and daughters powered the animated film The Princess and the Frog to the number one spot in its first weekend of nationwide release. But the frame's only other wide opener, Clint Eastwood's Nelson Mandela drama Invictus, suffered a soft debut in third place. Overall, the North American box office remained ahead of the same frame from a year ago as 2009 continued on its record pace towards shattering the $10 billion mark for the first time ever.

In a cartoon world ruled by computer animation and 3D wizardry, Disney went old school with its traditionally drawn pic The Princess and the Frog which won the box office crown with $24.2M this weekend, according to final studio figures. Following two weeks of exclusive play at solo theaters in New York and Los Angeles, the G-rated tale set in 1920s New Orleans won over kids with a powerful $7,050 average from 3,434 theaters. Kidpics rarely break $20M on opening weekend in December unless they bow over the Christmas holiday frame. With holiday shopping and other activities becoming a top priority, parents often become less available for moviegoing at this time of year, but invade the multiplexes in large numbers come the 25th.

The Mouse House has a decades-long history of making princess movies, and even in the 1990s had multicultural female leads in major toons like Mulan, Aladdin, and Pocahontas. But Disney finally has its first black princess and audiences are giving her a big thumbs up. The bayou pic earned a solid A grade from CinemaScore indicating encouraging word-of-mouth ahead. Studio research showed that 64% of the audience was female, not surprisingly, and that 53% was under 25. Disney reported that the gender split began evening out on Saturday and that more males are expected to come out over the long run. Princess continued a four-week streak of femme-skewing films ruling the charts following The Blind Side and New Moon.

Sandra Bullock was a day away from rushing past the $150M mark for the second time this year as her surprise football hit The Blind Side enjoyed another fantastic hold grossing $15.1M in its fourth weekend. Off a very slender 25%, the Warner Bros. hit lifted its domestic total to $149.8M and on Monday will become the record fifteenth movie of 2009 to break the century-and-a-half barrier - the most in any one year. Only eleven films surpassed that level in 2008. With Avatar, Sherlock Holmes, and other potential blockbusters still to come, that figure is sure to grow. Blind Side is on course to race past the $200M mark too.

The news wasn't as good for Warners in third place where its Clint Eastwood film Invictus ended up on its opening weekend. The Morgan Freeman-Matt Damon pic bowed to $8.6M from 2,125 theaters for a mild $4,052 average. The Nelson Mandela film debuted just like another Africa-set drama that the studio launched in mid-December - 2006's Blood Diamond. That Leonardo DiCaprio pic debuted to $8.6M from 1,910 sites for a $4,528 average on its way to a $57.4M final cume. Invictus is already a bigger player during awards season than Diamond ever was so it is likely to enjoy better legs in the weeks ahead.

Outside of last winter's Gran Torino, Eastwood's directorial efforts never post large openings but rather attract a loyal older audience over time. Warner Bros. is expecting the same here looking at this weekend as just a chance to set the film up in the marketplace so as awards and nominations come in, it can immediately benefit. The Oscar-winning director saw debuts of $9.4M for last year's Changeling, $10.2M for Flags of Our Fathers, and $10.4M for 2003's Mystic River so he is in the same neighborhood once again. Even Million Dollar Baby opened to just $12.3M in its first wide weekend in late January of 2005 just days after it scored seven major Academy Award nominations.

Still, Invictus is no easy-sell with its story of South African politics and rugby plus its not-so-marketable title. Budgeted at $60M, the PG-13 film will need to rely on Best Actor kudos that Freeman is expected to receive for his acclaimed performance in order to attract a larger audience. He's already won in that category with the National Board of Review (in a tie with George Clooney for Up in the Air) and is expected to earn a Golden Globe nomination this Tuesday. A windfall of Globe nominations including Best Picture is what Invictus is hoping for to keep it relevant with movie audiences against a wave of much bigger films about to flood theaters over the holidays.

Dropping 48% to fourth place was The Twilight Saga: New Moon which pulled in another $8M boosting the cume to $267.3M. The Summit release is the fifth biggest blockbuster of 2009 and still has a shot at reaching the triple century mark to challenge Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince for the number two spot for the year. James Cameron will also try to get in on that action with Avatar which invades theaters on Friday riding a hot wave of anticipation and stellar early reviews. New Moon now sits at number 43 on the all-time blockbusters list in between the first Shrek and second Potter.

Disney's animated holiday treat A Christmas Carol followed in fifth with $6.8M slipping a mere 12% in its sixth round for a $124.4M cume. The Jim Carrey starrer is performing just like the last motion capture Christmas flick from Robert Zemeckis, 2004's The Polar Express. That Tom Hanks vehicle dipped an identical 12% in its sixth weekend to a slightly better $8.4M pushing its total after six weekends to a similar $123.4M. But Carol has the advantages of five years of ticket price increases plus 3D surcharges so it is actually attracting a smaller audience. A final take of around $155M could be possible.

Lionsgate's solider story Brothers fell 47% in its second mission to $5M raising the ten-day total to $17.4M. A $30M final could result. Disney's star-driven comedy Old Dogs with John Travolta and Robin Williams slipped only 36% to $4.4M for a $40M sum.

The doomsday thriller 2012 grossed $4.4M, down just 36%, and climbed to $155.3M from North America. Sony's big-budget disaster flick ranks number 12 for the year having just zipped past the $155.1M of Fast & Furious. The foreign total climbed to an astounding $556M repping 78% of the $711.3M global gross. 2012 is the fourth largest worldwide blockbuster of 2009 and the biggest non-sequel of the year.

Violent actioners rounded out the top ten with Armored and Ninja Assassin taking in grosses of $3.5M and $2.7M, respectively. The Sony heist film dropped 46% and has made off with only $11.8M in its first ten days. Warner Bros. saw a 47% fall for its martial arts pic and has banked a decent $34.3M to date.

In limited release, Paramount's awards contender Up in the Air starring George Clooney continued to impress in its second weekend shooting up to number 11 with $2.4M despite still in a small number of theaters. The Jason Reitman-directed pic expanded from 15 to 72 locations and averaged a sturdy $33,255 per site. The well-reviewed film should continue to post muscular numbers in limited play especially after it nabs some Golden Globe nominations this week. The wide break is scheduled for Christmas Day when it will have to compete for adult audiences against the debuts of Sherlock Holmes and It's Complicated. Air's cume is now $4M.

Two new releases enjoyed strong openings in their platform bows on Friday. Paramount's Peter Jackson-directed fantasy The Lovely Bones was met with some harsh reviews but scored $116,616 from just three sites for a powerful $38,872 average. The Weinstein Co. enjoyed a $24,148 opening weekend average for its Colin Firth drama A Single Man which debuted in nine locations to $217,332. Each film will expand to more cities in the weeks to come with Bones not scheduled to go wide until January 15.

The top ten films grossed $82.7M which was up 5% from last year when The Day the Earth Stood Still opened in the top spot with $30.5M; but down a steep 45% from 2007 when heavy hitters I Am Legend and Alvin and the Chipmunks debuted on top with $77.2M and $44.3M, respectively.

Compared to projections, The Princess and the Frog opened close to my $26M forecast but Invictus came in well below my $15M prediction.

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

Check the NEW chart for the Top Disney Animated Openings and the UPDATED chart for the Top Hits of 2009.

For reviews of The Princess and the Frog and The Lovely Bones visit The Chief Report.

Be sure to check back on Thursday for a complete summary, including projections, for next weekend when Avatar and Did You Hear About the Morgans? both open.

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

# Title Dec 11 - 13 Dec 4 - 6 % Chg. Theaters Weeks AVG Cumulative Distributor
1 The Princess and the Frog $ 24,208,916 $ 747,710 3,434 3 $ 7,050 $ 27,088,786 Buena Vista
2 The Blind Side 15,055,258 20,043,181 -24.9 3,388 4 4,444 149,816,797 Warner Bros.
3 Invictus 8,611,147 2,125 1 4,052 8,611,147 Warner Bros.
4 The Twilight Saga: New Moon 7,960,394 15,427,628 -48.4 3,635 4 2,190 267,320,977 Summit
5 A Christmas Carol 6,833,190 7,763,244 -12.0 2,402 6 2,845 124,426,097 Buena Vista
6 Brothers 5,014,426 9,527,848 -47.4 2,088 2 2,402 17,416,217 Lionsgate
7 Old Dogs 4,409,772 6,892,265 -36.0 3,090 3 1,427 39,996,273 Buena Vista
8 2012 4,351,565 6,771,665 -35.7 2,838 5 1,533 155,288,405 Sony
9 Armored 3,504,374 6,511,128 -46.2 1,919 2 1,826 11,750,895 Sony
10 Ninja Assassin 2,707,470 5,061,499 -46.5 2,100 3 1,289 34,304,761 Warner Bros.
11 Up in the Air 2,394,344 1,181,450 102.7 72 2 33,255 3,982,627 Paramount
12 Planet 51 2,267,038 4,386,873 -48.3 2,570 4 882 37,142,406 Sony
13 Everybody's Fine 2,194,210 3,852,068 -43.0 2,141 2 1,025 7,327,877 Miramax
14 Fantastic Mr. Fox 1,396,148 2,918,331 -52.2 1,268 5 1,101 16,258,464 Fox
15 Precious 1,280,550 2,282,077 -43.9 664 6 1,929 38,282,489 Lionsgate
16 Boondock Saints II 793,393 922,623 -14.0 524 7 1,514 8,475,017 Apparition
17 The Road 505,878 749,535 -32.5 135 3 3,747 4,012,327 Weinstein Co.
18 An Education 314,439 479,774 -34.5 223 10 1,410 6,752,785 Sony Classics
19 Couples Retreat 257,820 313,005 -17.6 371 10 695 107,592,235 Universal
20 Larger Than Life 3D: Dave Matthews Band 246,042 509 1 483 246,042 Cinedigm
Top 5 $ 62,668,905 $ 59,654,166 5.1
Top 10 82,656,512 86,237,399 -4.2
Top 20 94,306,374 96,349,699 -2.1
Top 20 vs. 2008 94,306,374 88,720,524 6.3

Last Updated: December 14, 2009 at 6:30PM ET