By Anne Thompson | Thompson on Hollywood November 27, 2011 at 1:15PM
The Thanksgiving holiday weekend offered a rich groaning board for mainstream and specialty audiences alike as more films pushed into the award season fray. Holdover "Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn- Part One" and new Disney musical "The Muppets" dominated the weekend, while "The Descendants" proved a powerful word-of-mouth hit for Fox Searchlight. On the downside, Martin Scorsese's $150-170 million 3-D period family film "Hugo" needed much bigger opening numbers to make back its production and marketing costs.
Even with a 69% drop on its second weekend, vampire soap "Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn" continued to pull women, grossing $62.3 million over five days and $42 million over three days. Its North American total is $221 million, just behind "New Moon"'s second weekend total, $230 million. Worldwide, the penultimate "Twilight" film grossed a weekend estimate of $71.5 million from 68 markets, with a foreign total of $268 million and a worldwide total of $489 million.
"Twilight" aside, five family films battled for the same demo, led by James Bobin and Jason Segal's modestly-budgeted $45 million musical "The Muppets" (97% Tomatometer), which rejuvenated a sleeping Disney franchise (even without the support of Frank Oz), grossing $29.5 million over three days and a total $42 million through Sunday. Its A Cinemascore promises long b.o. legs through Christmas.
Three far more expensive films ate each other's lunch over the weekend. Scoring just $12.7 million on 3376 screens was Columbia/Aardman's animated original "Arthur Christmas," with a top-flight Brit voice cast including James McAvoy, Hugh Laurie, Bill Nighy, Jim Broadbent and Imelda Staunton ( 93% Tomatometer), behind holdover sequel "Happy Feet Two" ($13. 4 million). With its seasonal theme and an A- Cinemascore, "Arthur Christmas" should build good word heading into the year-end peak moviegoing period; in the UK it showed a 9% uptick on its second weekend. Stateside opening audiences skewed female (59%) with 31% under 25; 53% of the take was from 3-D screens.
Also with stellar reviews (96% Tomatometer) and on half the screens of "Arthur Christmas," Paramount's "Hugo" (from producer/financeer Graham King), delivered $11.4 million on 1277 screens over three days. While Scorsese's 3-D visuals were eye-popping (pulling 75% of moviegeoers vs. 2-D) and the cast was first-rate, Ben Kingsley, Asa Butterfield, Chloe Moretz, Jude Law and Sacha Baron Cohen are not exactly marquee draws. Even at half its cost, this modest opening would be a disappointment. Paramount is trying to build good WOM toward its wider break on December 9.
Targeting the under-served male demo, mainstream comedies "Tower Heist" (up 3%) and "Jack and Jill" (down 12%) as well as mythic actioner "The Immortals" (down 28%) held their own over the holiday.
Several awards contenders targeted smart-house moviegoers this weekend. Fox Searchlight's "The Descendants" is a hit; Alexander Payne's George Clooney-starrer broadened to 433 screens on Friday and grossed $7.2 million ($16,628) for a total $10.7 million, edging Clint Eastwood's "J. Edgar" out of the top ten weekend grossers (see chart below). By contrast, on 1910 screens, the Warner Bros' biopic earned $4.9 million, down 16% in its third weekend with a meager $2592 theater average and a total $28.8 million to date. Responding to demand for "The Descendants," Searchlight plans to add 200 screens a week ahead of their planned December 9 expansion.
Among new indie entries, Sony Pictures Classics scored a strong three-day $45,463 per screen average on four screens for a five day total of $240,944 for David Cronenberg's "A Dangerous Method," boosted by sexy content and a starry ensemble led by Viggo Mortensen, Keira Knightley and Michael Fassbender ( 78% Tomatometer).
The Weinstein Co. offered two new art films, Michel Hazanavicius's black-and-white homage to the Silents, "The Artist," starring Cannes Best Actor-winner Jean Dujardin (98% Tomatometer) and Simon Curtis's "My Week With Marilyn," starring Michelle Williams and Kenneth Branagh (86% Tomatometer). Critics raves and sheer novelty helped "The Artist" to pop with audiences, who gave it an A Cinemascore; it earned $210,414 with the top per-screen average of the weekend on just four screens, a splendid $52,604 over three days. Ever since its Cannes debut, TWC has screened the movie as much as possible to build buzz.
But even with Williams channeling icon Marilyn Monroe, Brit period romp "My Week with Marilyn" clearly faced too much competition in its opening round, starting on 123 screens in 12 key markets on Wednesday (per screen $11,010) and broadening--unwisely, it seems--to 61 more markets on Friday (per screen $6161), hoping to build upbeat word-of-mouth. The film saw a Saturday uptick and earned an A- Cinemascore, but faces a long slog to hang in theaters through the Golden Globes and beyond; Williams is expected to be a Best Actress contender. The five-day gross was just $2.1 million with a combined three day per screen of $7,266. (IW's detailed report is here.)
Top Ten Weekend Box Office Chart- Three Day Estimates
1. "Twilight: Breaking Dawn Pt. 1 (Summit) $42 million down 69% in its second weekend at 4066 theaters, $10,330 theater average. Domestic total: $221.3 million.
2. "The Muppets" (Disney) $29.5 million in its first weekend at 3440 theaters, $8576 theater average. Domestic total: $42 million.
3. "Happy Feet Two" (WB) $13.4 million down 37% in its second weekend at 3611 theaters, $3711 theater average. Domestic total: $43.7 million.
4. "Arthur Christmas" (Sony) $12.7 million in its first weekend at 3376 theaters, $3762 theater average. Domestic total: $17 million.
5. "Hugo" (Paramount) $11.4 million in its first weekend at 1277 theaters, $8888 theater average. Domestic total: $15.4 million.
6. "Jack and Jill" (Sony) $10.3 million down 12% in its third weekend at 3029 theaters, $3400 theater average. Domestic total: $57.4 million.
7. "Immortals" (Relativity Media) $8.8 million down 28% in its third weekend at 2677 theaters, $3287 theater average. Domestic total: $68.6 million.
8. "Puss in Boots" (Paramount/ DreamWorks) $7.5 million million down 30% in its fifth weekend at 3005 theaters, $2479 theater average. Domestic total: $135 million.
9. "Tower Heist" (Universal) $7.32 million up 3% in its fourth weekend at 2,474 theaters, $2,960 theater average. Domestic total: $65.4 million.
10. "The Descendants" (Fox Searchlight) $7.2 million up 505% in its second weekend at 433 theaters, $16,628 theater average. Domestic total: $10.7 million.