Weekend Box Office (December 17 - 19, 2010)

by Gitesh Pandya

THIS WEEKEND Moviegoers flocked to the North American box office as five new films entered wide release led by the sci-fi action sequel TRON: Legacy which powered its way to number one by a wide margin. The kidpic Yogi Bear settled for a mediocre debut in second while the expensive star-driven romantic comedy How Do You Know flopped finishing in eighth place. Critically acclaimed awards hopefuls The Fighter and Black Swan, both nominated for multiple Golden Globes including Best Picture - Drama, expanded nationwide after successful play in limited release and scored solid numbers ahead of what should be lengthy runs. Despite the absence of Avatar which opened a year ago, overall ticket sales were almost equal to last year's frame.

Grossing more than the next three films combined, Disney's heavily-promoted effects picture TRON: Legacy debuted on top with $44M, according to final studio figures, easily leading the pre-Christmas frame. The PG-rated film played in 3,451 theaters and averaged a sturdy $12,758 helped in part by higher ticket prices from 3D and IMAX screens. In fact, the 234 IMAX sites hauled in a stunning $10.5M accounting for a sizable 24% of the overall tally. It was the fourth number one hit for the studio this year following Alice in Wonderland, Toy Story 3, and Tangled. All were 3D flicks.

Following up on the 1982 original which went on to become a cult classic with sci-fi and video game fans, Legacy saw the return of Jeff Bridges and aimed to deliver dazzling visuals on the big screen for a broad audience. With a reported production budget of at least $150M and a pricey marketing push, the action film needed a solid debut before the holidays to get on the right track and it succeeded. Given that the property was never wildly popular by mainstream standards, a gigantic opening was not expected. Legacy was a guy flick with studio research showing that a very high 66% of the audience was male and 75% was over 18. Disney will now try to connect with women to broaden the audience. The CinemaScore was a decent B+ and reviews were mixed.

Overseas, TRON: Legacy grossed $23M from number one openings in 26 territories led by Japan, Australia, the United Kingdom, Brazil, and Spain for a worldwide bow of $67M. The global roll-out continues next weekend and into the new year.

Opening in second place with a mild debut was the 3D family film Yogi Bear which took in $16.4M from 3,515 theaters for a $4,669 average. The debut was on par with the $16.1M bow Warner Bros. saw for its fall 3D toon Legend of the Guardians. Yogi is based on a better-known property, however with its mid-December launch, it should have better playability as the target audience becomes more available in the days ahead. These types of films launching at this time can often finish with four to six times their opening weekend tallies. Reviews were horrible.

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader fell by 48% to $12.4M in its second weekend. The decline was smaller than the sophomore drops of the first two films in the series, but was still sizable. After ten days, the Fox release has collected $42.8M which is less than the three-day opening weekends of both previous Narnia films and even this season's rival 3D effects adventure TRON.

Close behind in fourth was the acclaimed boxing drama The Fighter which expanded nationwide to the tune of $12.1M. The Paramount release averaged a good $4,848 per site from 2,503 locations and is trying to set itself up for a long winter run boosted by the holidays and continued momentum during awards seasons. Nominated for six Golden Globes, the R-rated pic has fared well with both critics and paying audiences earning strong reviews and a solid A- CinemaScore. Studio research showed that the film skewed 53% female and played older with 87% being 25 or higher. Co-produced with Relativity Media for only $25M and starring Mark Wahlberg, Christian Bale, Amy Adams, and Melissa Leo, The Fighter aims to remain a top ten contender for some time despite heavy competition for mature adults.

In fifth place with $8.8M was Disney's Tangled slipping only 39% bringing the 3D toon's cume to $127.9M. The arrival of Yogi Bear had little impact on the Rapunzel pic and with no new animated films arriving until next year, the holiday season should lead to a healthy bounty. The princess has amassed $97.8M overseas to date from only 17 territories for a robust $226M global tally.

Sony's megastar combo The Tourist with Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie followed its wimpy opening with a 48% drop to $8.5M. With $30.6M in ten days, the big-budget spy flick is suffering from weak initial interest and bad word-of-mouth putting it in a difficult position heading into the holidays when its adult audience will start to get more free time.

Awards magnet Black Swan expanded nationwide from 90 to 959 locations and surged to $8.4M for a terrific $8,742 average. Thanks to four Golden Globe nominations and plenty of other kudos it received from various groups over the last week, the ballet thriller has remained hot as it entered the national stage. Fox Searchlight has grossed $15.8M to date with much more to come. This Wednesday, it expands again to over 1,400 locations. Swan probably stole away many adult women from the next movie on the chart.

Audiences rejected the newest venture from veteran writer/director James L. Brooks How Do You Know which managed a measly $7.5M debut for a lowly eighth place finish. Averaging a lackluster $3,014 from 2,483 theaters, the PG-13 film brought with it a poor title and bad reviews making it a tough sell to mature adults despite the starpower of Reese Witherspoon, Owen Wilson, Paul Rudd, and Jack Nicholson. Following last weekend's Tourist, Sony is finding out the hard way that moviegoers won't blindly show up for any big-budget movie with A-list stars. The movies have to be good too, especially at today's ticket prices.

The audience for Know was 60% female and 55% over 30 and the gross was even worse than the $8.8M of Brooks' last film Spanglish from this same weekend in 2004. That Adam Sandler film played through the holidays to a multiple of five ending with just $42M. It will be hard for Know to top that putting the film in a dismal situation given its massive budget estimated to be more than $100M because of the high-priced talent. Comedies rarely cost this much unless there is a major special effects component. Overseas prospects are not bright either. The film barely generated any interest and with more acclaimed films in the marketplace for adults, most opted for awards contenders.

Dropping 41% to $5M was Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part 1 which raised its total to $265.7M. That was enough for the latest wizard flick to join the Top 50 list of all-time domestic blockbusters at number 50 displacing Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets which grossed $262M in 2002. With another $24.2M overseas, the newest Potter vaulted its international total to $558.4M and its worldwide haul to $824M. Rounding out the top ten was the runaway train hit Unstoppable with $1.8M, down 50%, for a $77.4M cume.

In limited release, The King's Speech continued its slow and steady climb with $1.1M from 43 venues for a superb $25,515 average and $2.9M total. The Weinstein Co. expands on Saturday, Christmas Day, into more than 600 runs. The Colin Firth pic earned more Globe nods than any other film with seven including Best Picture - Drama. Elsewhere, Lionsgate scored $53,778 platform bow for the Nicole Kidman-starrer Rabbit Hole from five sites for a good $10,756 average.

The top ten films grossed $125M which was just off 1% from last year when Avatar opened in the top spot with $77M; but up a whopping 61% from 2008 when Yes Man opened at number one with $18.3M.

Compared to projections, TRON: Legacy and Yogi Bear both opened close to my forecasts of $40M and $19M. Expansions of The Fighter and Black Swan were both very close to my predictions of $11M and $9M. How Do You Know debuted well below my $13M projection.

Check the UPDATED box office charts for the Top December Openings and Golden Globe nominee grosses.

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

For a NEW review of TRON: Legacy visit The Chief Report.

Be sure to check back on Wednesday for a complete summary, including projections, for next weekend when Little Fockers, True Grit, and Gulliver's Travels all open for Christmas weekend.

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

# Title Dec 17 - 19 Dec 10 - 12 % Chg. Theaters Weeks AVG Cumulative Distributor
1 TRON: Legacy $ 44,026,211 3,451 1 $ 12,758 $ 44,026,211 Buena Vista
2 Yogi Bear 16,411,322 3,515 1 4,669 16,411,322 Warner Bros.
3 The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage... 12,388,662 24,005,069 -48.4 3,555 2 3,485 42,752,237 Fox
4 The Fighter 12,135,468 300,010 2,503 2 4,848 12,569,403 Paramount
5 Tangled 8,775,344 14,331,687 -38.8 3,201 4 2,741 127,918,276 Buena Vista
6 The Tourist 8,522,287 16,472,458 -48.3 2,756 2 3,092 30,613,520 Sony
7 Black Swan 8,383,479 3,305,368 153.6 959 3 8,742 15,791,753 Fox Searchlight
8 How Do You Know 7,484,696 2,483 1 3,014 7,484,696 Sony
9 Harry Potter/Deathly Hallows Part 1 5,022,361 8,484,316 -40.8 2,860 5 1,756 265,723,618 Warner Bros.
10 Unstoppable 1,843,696 3,705,966 -50.3 1,874 6 984 77,386,304 Fox
11 Burlesque 1,425,855 3,166,613 -55.0 1,510 4 944 35,537,765 Sony
12 Due Date 1,262,257 2,581,147 -51.1 1,157 7 1,091 97,327,179 Warner Bros.
13 Love and Other Drugs 1,111,878 2,981,509 -62.7 1,093 4 1,017 30,201,141 Fox
14 The King's Speech 1,097,131 591,818 85.4 43 4 25,515 2,936,959 Weinstein Co.
15 Megamind 690,573 2,526,824 -72.7 1,025 7 674 141,641,535 Paramount
16 127 Hours 556,044 1,008,858 -44.9 307 6 1,811 9,321,571 Fox Searchlight
17 Faster 433,950 1,731,840 -74.9 660 4 658 22,500,498 CBS
18 Red 336,572 431,047 -21.9 439 10 767 88,429,993 Summit
19 The Social Network 282,025 285,193 -1.1 228 12 1,237 91,840,926 Sony
20 Fair Game 219,973 555,618 -60.4 268 6 821 8,650,388 Summit
Top 5 $ 93,737,007 $ 66,999,496 39.9
Top 10 124,993,526 81,560,957 53.3
Top 20 132,409,784 88,969,164 48.8
Top 20 vs. 2009 132,409,784 135,303,735 -2.1

Last Updated: December 20, 2010 at 4:30PM ET

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