Wreck-It Ralph
Wreck-It Ralph

Both "Wreck-It-Ralph" and "Flight" opened better than expected (with upbeat audience reaction), despite widespread damage from Hurricane Sandy in the largest population center of the country. Neither film set records, but both scored with their different core demographics, and look set to thrive in upcoming weeks.

Overall, business was up 50% from last weekend's weak Halloween performance, and is up close to 20% from last year.

November is now performing as strong as overperforming October, which delivered three major hits: "Taken 2," "Hotel Transylvania" and "Argo." With the new Bond and "Twlight" films in the offing and the holidays still to come, studios are banking on the last quarter salvaging a lackluster year.

1. Wreck-It Ralph (Buena Vista) NEW - Cinemascore: A; Metacritic score: 73

$49,100,000 in 3,752 theaters; PSA (per screen average): $13,086; Cumulative: $49,100,000

Strong openings for mainstream animated features are commonplace, but this level of performance for a non-sequel in a non-holiday period is still impressive. Aided by 3-D surcharges, this Walt Disney Animated Studio production continues the successful string of that began with "Tangled" and smaller-scale "Winnie the Pooh." The company continues to thrive with output from always-reliable Pixar

This is not the biggest animated opening for November or even pre-Thanksgiving. "Madagascar 2" (not 3-D) opened to $63 million four years ago, boosted by the success of the first entry. Disney is cheering that male-targeted "Wreck-It-Ralph" opened at the same level as Thanksgiving release "Tangled" (also not 3-D).

Atypically, director Rich Moore made his name in non-Disney projects before taking on this film, earning Emmys for "The Simpsons" and "Futurama." Disney has traditionally developed its own creative team. Producer Clark Spencer is more homegrown -- he previously oversaw "Lilo and Stitch," "Bolt" and "Winnie the Pooh" for Disney.

What comes next: Assuming continued good word of mouth, this should thrive for several weeks, with a big push at Thanksgiving. Expect more franchise wreckage ahead.

2. Flight (Paramount) NEW - Cinemascore: A-; Metacritic score: 76

$25,010,000 in 1,884 theaters; PSA: $13,263; Cumulative: $25,010,000

An initial success by any standard, "Flight" looks poised to settle in for a lengthy run. With a PSA (unaided by 3-D surcharges) better than "Wreck-It Ralph," playing at fewer than 2,000 theaters initially, and appealing mainly to primarily an adult audience. With a modest production budget of $31 million, the film from director Robert Zemeckis and star Denzel Washington proves that both continue to be among the most reliable draws in the business.

This marks Zemeckis's eighth consecutive opening over $20 million (with five previous films, when adjusted for inflation, also above or near that level). All but one ended up over $100 million. Washington boasts three bigger (unadjusted) openings, including "Safe House" at $40 million earlier this year, but all of these opened at over 3,000 theaters and had wider initial appeal.

The impressive "Argo," an even more acclaimed adult-oriented drama, opened at more than $5 million less on 1,250 more screens. "Flight"'s PSA is more than double that of "Argo."

Zemeckis' last live-action film was 2000's "Cast Away," starring Tom Hanks. Opening Christmas weekend, "Cast Away" grossed almost $29 million on its way to $233 million (again with lower ticket prices). It was sustained by the holidays and enthusiastic audience reaction, but also a higher print count from the start. "Flight" might not get to that level, but is poised to benefit from strong audience response as it broadens out.

What comes next: Although several still-to-open films are riding on more Oscar buzz overall, the consensus acclaim for Washington's performance could push this box office hit toward wider awards contention. So far Zemeckis has only enjoyed one Oscar breakout -- "Forrest Gump."

3. Argo (Warner Brothers) Week 4 - Last Weekend: #1

$10,245,000 (-15%) in 2,774 theaters (-81); PSA: $3,761; Cumulative: $75,896,000

Another outstanding hold, down a minimal 15% in its fourth weekend. While this opened below the levels of Ben Affleck's earlier film "The Town" and David Fincher's successful "The Social Network," after this weekend it now is substantially ahead of both at the same point in its release.

What comes next: This weekend confirms that "Argo" is on its way to grossing over $100 million even before its awards boost kicks in. This is major hit still has a long way to go.