Chris Hemsworth in "Thor: The Dark World"
Chris Hemsworth in "Thor: The Dark World"

Marvel/Disney's "Thor: The Dark World," aided both by upbeat audience reaction and the lack of product in theaters aimed at the young action-movie demo, roared back to Number One in its second weekend. Universal's "The Best Man Holiday" beat it out for top spot on Friday, but fell back to score more than $30 million, even more impressive as it played at some 1,800 fewer theaters than "Thor" ("Best Man"'s per screen average was actually 50% better).

'Best Man Holiday'
'Best Man Holiday'

The rest of the top 10 consists of mostly fall holdovers, with smaller than usual drops at this point for all except for Lionsgate's disappointing "Ender's Game." But the year-to-year comparison is devastating. The top 10 grossed around $119 million, only half of the same weekend last year. The difference is that 2012 saw "Breaking Dawn 2" open (last year this was the pre-Thanksgiving weekend, which is delayed a week in 2013), which alone did $141 million to open, with "Skyfall," "Lincoln" and others adding to the total to make it the second best weekend of 2012. "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire" next week should outdo the "Twilight" finale, so much of this gap should be closed. Still, it shows that there's still a steep climb to match last year's total $10.8 million gross.

Alexander Payne's "Nebraska" (Paramount) was the major new limited release, with a PSA of $35,000 in four New York/Los Angeles theaters making it the best platform opening since "12 Years a Slave." Focus' "Dallas Buyers Club," which opened nearly as well two weeks ago, managed to place #12 this weekend with a quite good $1,785,000 in 184 theaters. More on both of these films and other specialized titles in Arthouse Audit.

1. Thor: The Dark World (Buena Vista) Week 2 - Last weekend #1

$38,454,000 (-55%) in 3,841 theaters (unchanged); PSA (per screen average): $10,011; Cumulative: $146,965,000

This held better than the lower grossing "Thor" in 2009 even with a 55% drop and is otherwise ahead of that film's performance (both second weekend total and gross to date). As solid as the domestic totals are, the bigger news is foreign, where the total so far is already $333 million ("Thor" for its entire run reached $268 million) with two major territories -- Japan and Italy -- still to open.  That puts its foreign take ahead of "Gravity" as the biggest of the season, though it still lags behind that film domestically. Marvel knows its market, and the performance here shows the boost the smash success of "The Avengers" has given to all its franchises.

What comes next: "Catching Fire" will take a lot of wind out of its sails, but this had $75 million+ additional domestic business left.

2. The Best Man Holiday (Universal) NEW - Cinemascore: A+; Criticwire: B-; Metacritic: 59

$30,600,000 in 2,024 theaters; PSA: $15,155; Cumulative: $30,600,000

Though it didn't sustain its #1 opening day position and actually lagged further behind "Thor: The Dark World" than looked likely yesterday, "The Best Man Holiday" still ended up strong. With a $17 million budget for this 14-year later sequel (which in a much different universe opened to $9 million and ended up at $34), this had an overwhelmingly African-American (87%), female (75%) and older (63% over 35) audience, making the total more impressive in its draw from a narrower range of moviegoers.

This is a major step forward for veteran director Malcolm D. Lee (who also wrote and co-produced the film). He had four previous films with total grosses between $32 and $42 million (apart from "The Best Man," "Undercover Brother," "Welcome Home Roscoe Jenkins" and "Scary Movie 5") with this looking to end up far above all of these ($75 million and possibly more). The A+ Cinemascore -- very rare -- suggests superb word of mouth, although the narrowness of the draw will keep the multiple below what otherwise might result from that kind of response.

The film recreated most of the original's cast (Taye Diggs, Terrence Howard, Regina Hall, Nia Long, Morris Chestnut) and was coproduced by Sean Daniel, who in his 30s was head of production at Universal. This is something of a comeback for him, with his biggest successes as a producer ("Dazed and Confused," "Tombstone," "Michael," "The Jackal," "The Mummy") going back to the 1990s.

What comes next:  Nearly all of the business will be domestic, but it should be strong enough to suggest that another sequel won't take nearly as long to be realized.