Weekend Box Office (December 23 - 26, 2011)

by Gitesh Pandya

THIS WEEKEND Scoring his first number one film in a lead role since his last turn as Ethan Hunt, Tom Cruise scaled to the top of the charts over the Christmas session with his latest spy sequel Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol which topped the North American box office in its first round of wide release. The top three spots were all sophomore sequels playing musical chairs from last week's rankings as the batch of new holiday releases were met with more modest turn-outs settling for slots in the middle of the top ten. Overall sales were somewhat slow but activity picked up dramatically on Christmas Sunday and studios are hoping that the week ahead will see heavy traffic at multiplexes thanks to the extra time off so many people will have. Christmas Eve is always a soft moviegoing day due to last-minute holiday distractions and theaters closing early so with it falling on the prime day of Saturday this year, weekend grosses took a beating for every movie.

Expanding nationwide after five days of exclusive play on large-format screens, Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol was the top film among moviegoers over Santa weekend grossing $44.1M over the four-day Friday-to-Monday period. The fourth installment in the long-running Paramount series averaged $12,794 from 3,448 theaters including IMAX sites which was very good given the hit all films took on Christmas Eve. Adding in the earlier limited run in IMAX and other large-format venues, the cume stands at a solid $76.6M with a red hot holiday week still to come when everyday behaves like a Saturday. The CinemaScore grade was a good A-.

Ghost Protocol will easily beat the $134M domestic final of the last film, 2006's Mission: Impossible III, and although it is too early to conclude, it also has a shot at challenging the $215.4M of 2000's MI2 to become the top-grossing installment of the series. After the disappointing results five years ago of the last flick, and all the negative publicity Cruise attracted in recent years, most thought this franchise could not make a comeback like this.

Overseas it dominated again with an estimated $58M through Monday lifting the international total to $155M and the global cume to $232M.

Dropping in its second weekend to second place was the tentpole sequel Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows with $31M over four days raising the 11-day tally to $89.8M. Even factoring out the Christmas Eve effect, it was a large decline for a pricey pic coming off of a softer-than-expected opening as the three-day period fell by half. All the new choices for grown-ups certainly affected the turn out and teens are not contributing significantly to the grosses.

Fellow sophomore sequel Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked fared a little better dropping from its opening frame to a Friday-to-Monday take of $19.5M ranking third for the session. The Fox release has taken in $56.5M in 11 days. With kids now out of school and on break, the studio is expecting stellar daily grosses for the next week.

Sony's much-hyped The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo opened in fourth place with a mediocre start grossing $19.5M over the four-day holiday weekend and $27.8M since debuting on Tuesday night. Directed by David Fincher, the R-rated remake of the hit Swedish film averaged $6,692 from 2,914 locations and like other films is hoping to pick up solid numbers during the holiday week ahead. Reviews were quite good and the Daniel Craig starrer has even scored some notices during awards season, however the dark and violent subject matter coupled with intense competition for the attention of mature adults led to an underwhelming result over the happy and cheery yuletide holiday. Still, a domestic final of $100M cannot be ruled out this early in the run as moviegoers continue to catch up on films they are interested in.

Steven Spielberg had a bumpy start to his Christmas double feature offering for North American movie fans. The animated actioner The Adventures of Tintin bowed to just $15.1M this four-day weekend with $19.8M across the six-day debut period of Wednesday-to-Monday. The domestic total including the earlier run in Quebec which began on December 9 is $23.1M. The 3D Paramount release played in 3,087 theaters and averaged $4,893 over four days but with sensational reviews is hoping to find American audiences over time. The property is not too well-known in the United States which always posed a challenge. Tintin opened in Europe and most international territories in October and has banked a stellar $240M+ overseas already making the U.S. not too important to the overall picture. Other films generated more excitement with parents and kids have been turning up in bigger numbers for the more familiar Alvin and the Chipmunks pic even though it is in its second weekend.

Also not fast and furious out of the gate, but well-positioned to gain some ground during the holiday week ahead, was the Matt Damon drama We Bought a Zoo which opened on Friday and collected $14.6M over the long weekend from 3,117 locations for a $4,685 average. The PG-rated film was not based on any brand that would lead to upfront excitement and Damon is not much of a box office draw outside of the action genre so Fox has been counting on positive buzz from regular moviegoers to help it sell the film. Two rounds of sneak previews weeks ago and the two days of nationwide release before Christmas Day were intended to get the feel-good film in front of ordinary people who would then spread strong word-of-mouth over the holidays allowing those recommendations to kick in from December 25 onwards. An encouraging A grade from CinemaScore indicates that the product is indeed pleasing ticket buyers so Zoo numbers will have to be watched in the days and weeks ahead.

Reviews have been mixed and won't help the cause too much, but working in the film's favor is that it is the only truly American film for grown-ups among all the major films this holiday week. Other films feature some combination of foreign settings, charcters, and actors. Studio research showed that the Zoo audience was 58% female and 59% 25 and older.

The World War I drama War Horse enjoyed a solid debut on Christmas Sunday with $7.5M on opening day and $14.5M for the two-day Sunday-Monday span. Released by Disney, the PG-13 film averaged a strong $6,114 over only two days and was able to capitalize on good reviews and the brand name of Steven Spielberg who shot the film while Tintin's extensive effects work was being done. Producer DreamWorks is hoping for a long run with good notices from audiences during the holiday week ahead to help sell it to a wider audience.

Also opening on Christmas Day was the thriller The Darkest Hour which bowed to $3M on Sunday and $5.1M over two days. The Summit release averaged only $2,182 across two days from 2,324 playdates and earned a discouraging C+ CinemasScore grade.

Holdovers with modest grosses rounded out the top ten. The Warner Bros. comedy New Year's Eve tumbled to $5.2M giving the ensemble pic a disappointing $34.5M to date. Fox Searchlight's awards contender The Descendants grossed $3.3M boosting the total to $33.6M.

The top ten films grossed an estimated $171.9M over the Friday-to-Monday period while the Top 20 hauled in roughly $193M thanks to a major rebound on Sunday and Monday.

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

Check the chart for the Golden Globe Nominations and Grosses and the chart for the Top December Openings.

Watch the NEW trailer for Men in Black 3. For NEW reviews of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Sherlock Holmes and Mission: Impossible visit The Chief Report.

Be sure to check back on Thursday for a complete summary, including projections, for next weekend when War Horse and The Darkest Hour have their first full weekends.

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

# Title Dec 23 - 26 Dec 16 - 18 % Chg. Theaters Weeks AVG Cumulative Distributor Dec 23 - 25
1 Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol $ 44,115,000 $ 12,785,204 245.0 3,448 2 $ 12,794 $ 76,550,000 Paramount $ 29,500,000
2 Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows 31,010,000 39,637,079 -21.8 3,703 2 8,374 89,764,000 Warner Bros. 20,260,000
3 Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked 19,528,294 23,244,744 -16.0 3,734 2 5,230 56,468,481 Fox 12,585,192
4 The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo 19,500,000 2,914 1 6,692 27,750,000 Sony 12,750,000
5 The Adventures of Tintin 15,105,000 3,087 1 4,893 23,112,000 Paramount 9,705,000
6 We Bought a Zoo 14,604,645 3,117 1 4,685 14,604,645 Fox 9,360,434
7 War Horse 14,527,972 2,376 1 6,114 14,527,972 Disney 7,515,402
8 New Year's Eve 5,195,000 7,310,413 -28.9 2,585 3 2,010 34,532,000 Warner Bros. 3,310,000
9 The Darkest Hour 5,072,000 2,324 1 2,182 5,072,000 Summit 3,000,000
10 The Descendants 3,271,980 3,268,357 0.1 813 6 4,025 33,563,532 Fox Searchlight 2,073,371
Top 5 $ 129,258,294 $ 87,586,121 47.6
Top 10 171,929,891 105,970,233 62.2
Top 10 vs. 2010 171,929,891 124,133,496 38.5
Top 10 vs. 2009 171,929,891 255,212,045 -32.6
Below the Top 10:
The Muppets 3,269,337 3,520,926 -7.1 1,536 5 2,128 76,825,862 Disney 2,145,762
Hugo 3,125,000 3,707,848 -15.7 1,236 5 2,528 44,753,000 Paramount 2,125,000
Young Adult 2,670,000 3,403,159 -21.5 987 3 2,705 8,079,000 Paramount 1,750,000
Arthur Christmas 2,500,000 3,554,286 -29.7 1,804 5 1,386 43,800,000 Sony 2,000,000
The Sitter 2,497,342 4,608,681 -45.8 1,786 3 1,398 22,985,544 Fox 1,739,165
The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Pt. 1 2,382,000 4,197,893 -43.3 1,603 6 1,486 271,184,000 Summit 1,467,000
Don 2 2,023,071 161 1 12,566 2,081,205 Reliance 1,673,704
The Artist 1,315,261 287,367 357.7 167 5 7,876 2,813,691 Weinstein Co. 883,063
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy 1,056,072 456,777 131.2 55 3 19,201 2,157,654 Focus 717,459
My Week With Marilyn 875,560 591,385 48.1 602 5 1,454 7,294,756 Weinstein Co. 561,097
Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close 115,000 6 1 19,167 115,000 Warner Bros. 72,000
In the Land of Blood & Honey 25,459 3 1 8,486 25,459 FilmDistrict 18,854

NOTE - Due to holidays, not all distributors reported final grosses. Films in bold opened on Sunday, Christmas Day.

Last Updated: December 27, 2011 at 8:00PM ET

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