Doona Bae in 'Cloud Atlas'
Doona Bae in 'Cloud Atlas'

This pre-Halloween weekend, one Warner Bros. release soared to the top of the box office line-up on strong word of mouth. The other, with a C+ Cinemascore, could be sinking fast. "Cloud Atlas," their expensive epic from three major directors, failed to gross $10 million, a soft opening for this much-ballyhooed $100-million epic. But "Argo" climbed to #1, showing more strength in its third week than robust initial reaction indicated.

A perfect storm of factors contributed to a weak three days, which were down a third from last weekend, about 10% from last year. Preparations for Hurricane Sandy took its toll for much of the eastern population and Halloween activity always dominates the weekend, which is why most distributors avoid the time period for top openers. So this could be a temporary drop after a strong October. With "Flight" next week, the uptick should resume.

One new opening -- Paramount's "Fun Size" -- barely made the top 10, while Fox's ill-fated "Chasing Shadows" could manage no better than 12th place.

(The box office rankings moved from Friday to Sunday; with close grosses for several films, actual ranking could still change again Monday when final figures come in.

1. Argo (Warner Brothers) Week 3 - Last Week #2

$12,355,000 (-25%) in 2,855 theaters (-392); PSA: $4,327; Cumulative: $60,780,000

Despite losing almost 400 theaters, "Argo" jumped to #1 in its third week (after two weekends at #2). The 25% fall off would be impressive even without the impact of the storm. The Ben Affleck Mideast thriller has owned the adult audience this month; the film should easily pass $100 million and play well through Thanksgiving.

What comes next: With super reviews and popular success, this film is now the Oscar front runner, although more heavyweight contenders are coming through the end of the year.

2. Hotel Transylvania (Sony) Week 5 - Last Week: #4

$9,500,000 (-27%) in 3,276 theaters (+262); PSA: $2,900; Cumulative: $130,434,000

Pre-Halloween fever and continued strong word of mouth pushed this back up two positions this weekend, as the fall's biggest hit keeps going strong. It is now the biggest-grossing domestic animated release Sony has ever produced.

What comes next: This likely will keep on going post-holiday.

3. Cloud Atlas (Warner Brothers) NEW - Cinemascore: C+; Metacritic score: 55

$9,400,000 in 2,008 theaters; PSA: $4,681; Cumulative: $9,400,000

Not an encouraging opening for this high profile and $100-million adaptation of David Mitchell's epic science fiction/multistory novel. The gross -- depressed by the incoming storm -- actually indicates real interest, more so considering the decidedly mixed reviews. But the overall audience reaction, if the Cinemascore is any indication, suggests a tricky path ahead.

Warners reports the best reaction came from 25-34 year olds, with 77% being 25 or older. If the reaction is better among this group, there remains a chance that better word of mouth could lead to a more credible hold than the initial numbers indicate.

Luckily for Warners--if not the Wachowskis, who mortgaged their homes to invest in the film-- "Cloud Atlas"'s financing came from various international sources. But Warners' stake is still substantial, given its marketing spend on top of $25 million for domestic rights.

For the Wachowski siblings, two-thirds of the directing team, this represents a major falloff from previous successes. Their three "Matrix" films were of course huge hits, but even their last directorial effort "Speed Racer" opened to over $18 million in 2008. German co-director Tom Tykwer has had one previous wide opener along with his specialized releases--overseas hit "Perfume" opened in three theaters stateside--"The International" opened to a similar gross four years ago.

Tom Hanks now has had three underperforming starring roles in a row (after "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close" and "Larry Crowne") after nearly three decades of almost guaranteed success each time out.

What comes next: Cult status at least, but more importantly, international interest could still ultimately improve the film's performance.