Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn
Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn

A wide variety of films succeeded this weekend, mostly well-reviewed pictures for adults-- with one franchise finale (“Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2”) and one non-holiday Disney animation hit ("Wreck-It-Ralph") delivering as expected. Business for the Top Ten was up from both last weekend (50%) and last year (12%) – even though fewer films grossed over $4 million for the three days. But last year also saw a “Twilight” opening, so the uptick is impressive.

The weakness beyond the top films allowed the last film of a legendary Indian director to break into the top 10 in limited release – and “Jab Tak Hai Jaan”was playing  in only 161 theaters.

Two highly anticipated potential award-contenders opened limited. Weinstein’s “Silver Lining Playbook” scored a solid $458,000 in 16 theaters across the country, while Focus’ “Anna Karenina” did a decent $315,000 at the same number. (Stay tuned for more analysis in Arthouse Audit.)

Here’s an oddball factoid that rarely if ever happens – the directors of five of the top six films have won Oscars for either directing or writing (with another previous director winner coming with “The Life of Pi” next week). And Rich Moore, the director of “Wreck-It Ralph,” has two Emmys for producing to make him consistent with the trend. This seems more than coincidence – studios seem to be turning back more to established, if more expensive and less compliant, talent after often seeming to prefer the flavor of the month for hit movies.

1. "The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 2" (Lionsgate) NEW – Cinemascore: A; Metacritic score: 53
$141,300,000 in 4,070 theaters; PSA (Per screen average): $34,717; Cumulative: $141,300,000

The final (for now at least) installment in Stephanie Meyer’s teen vampire saga isn’t perhaps the biggest opening (falling just over a million short of “New Moon”’s first weekend), but beat “Part 1” last year’s $138 million. As with the final “Harry Potter” film) one book was turned into two films to maximize profits.

Directed (as was "Part 1”) by “Dreamgirls” and “Gods and Monsters” director Bill Condon, the "Twilight Saga" is the most successful teen-female series in recent film history, and helped pave the way for the huge launch of “Hunger Games." Now distributed by Lionsgate (merged with Summit Entertainment, which still takes the producing credit), this marks the distributor's ninth weekend at #1 so far this year. The company has now exceeded $1 billion in domestic gross for the first time in its history.

For comparison, “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows – Part 2” was about 25% better than “Part 1” with a summertime opening weekend of $169 million, with the first part grossing $125 million exactly two years ago. But both films were aided by their 3-D conversion and thus higher average ticket prices, so “Twilight” in regular old 2-D more than held its own.
The difference between the two series (along with the far lower expense of the “Twilight” films – this one has a reported budget of $65 million”) is  less global appeal. Each of the films in the series so far has grossed somewhat more internationally up til now than domestic, but nothing like the two to three times more that the “Potter” series has done. Those films – like the James Bond series – suggest that the British are as good if not better producers of international franchise films.

What comes next: This is a front-ended series. Last year, the second weekend (also post-Thankgiving day) was down 70% from the opening. The total gross more than doubled the opening weekend, so this should be expected to hang around for a while.

2. "Skyfall" (Sony) Week 2 – Last weekend: #1
$41,500,000 (-53%) in 3,505 theaters (unchanged); PSA: $11,840; Cumulative: $161,337,000

Although the drop is over 50%, this actually is a better hold than the second weekend of “Quantum of Solace” (which fell 60%),  all the more impressive with the higher “Skyfall” opening numbers. With the Thanksgiving weekend still to come, this should blast past $200 million before long. It's already the top grosers (unadjusted) in domestic series history. (For context, the film’s biggest domestic performer, “Thunderball,” grossed close to $600 million domestic adjusted for inflation). Through 11 days, “Skyfall” has grossed just a few million shy of “Quantum,” the previous best-grossing Bond film domestically without taking inflation into account.

What comes next: With Sam Mendes as the first Oscar-winning director to helm a regular series entry yielding the best reviews in Bond history, expect top directors to clamor to take on the next--if Mendes turns it down. In any event, the producers have managed to keep pace with the times, and then some.

3. "Lincoln" (Buena Vista) Week 2 – Last weekend: #15
$21,000,000 (+2,124%) in 1,775 theaters (+1,764); PSA: $11,831; Cumulative: $22,400,000

If last weekend’s strong limited openings were encouraging, this week’s large-scale expansion is more impressive. The Disney Company took a big risk in pushing this period presidential biopic out so quickly, which despite its creative pedigree offered no guarantee that this level of audience existed for a lengthy historical drama.

The risk was substantial on two levels. First, any weakness this early would have cast doubt on the length of the film’s run beyond the initial weeks in most theaters (meaning loss of potentially strong later Christmas week and then awards-parallel January potential) not to mention a possible taint on significant awards chances.

So far the risk has paid off. In its second week, “Lincoln” already is playing at more theaters than “Schindler’s List” did at any point in its very long and successful run.  

“Saving Private Ryan” opened in 1997 in 2,463 theaters to $30,600,000, which would be over $50 million at current prices. But it was a summertime release starring Tom Hanks at the height of his appeal, similarly acclaimed, and a more general audience-friendly film. At a fundamental level, “Lincoln” is a more surprising gross.

What is more impressive is the top-heavy adult-oriented line-up, more like what is often seen at post-Christmasmas weeks than in mid-November. Yet despite several other films also gaining older viewers, this more than found its share.

What comes next: Nothing yet is guaranteed for the future – the world of mouth from here (the film need sto satisfy the high expectations wset by strong reviews) will soon be apparent. But it is already a success by any normal standard, let alone those for other recent equivalent platform releases (see “The Master”).