Thompson on Hollywood

After a slow start to the summer season, movie ticket sales finally took off over the 4th of July weekend, driven by two powerful sequels, The Twilight Saga: Eclipse and Toy Story 3, and a review-proof family adventure from M. Night Shyamalan, The Last Airbender. Anthony D'Alessandro does the numbers.

Box office recession?  What box office recession?
No matter the weather over the Independence Day weekend, it was raining cash at movie theaters across North America as Summit Entertainment’s The Twilight Saga: Eclipse counted an enormous $175.3 million, marking the second-highest release over six days for the holiday--after 2004’s Spider-Man 2’s $180 million-plus.  $9 million of that figure was culled from 193 IMAX sites. And the vampires didn’t horde it all for themselves. 

While critics slammed M. Night Shyamalan’s risky Nickelodeon epic The Last Airbender, moviegoers supported the picture, which earned $70.5 million from its Thursday opening (its $150-million pricetag includes the 3D conversion). Over five days, The Last Airbender ranks as Shyamalan’s second-highest bow of all-time after Signs, which grossed $76.2 million in five days. Paramount lavished $130 million on worldwide marketing; domestic accounted for about $50 million. 3D accounted for 54% of the adventure's receipts, well below the 60% average recently reported by distributors for the visual format, but clearly a definite audience driver for Airbender, which pulled 55% males, who were 55% under 25.
The halo effect from Eclipse rallied a July 4th frame that, for the first time in several years, outstripped Memorial Day on both a three-day ($184 million for the top 12 films vs. $145.3 million) and four-day basis ($239.9 million vs. $184.2 million).  Overflow crowds from Eclipse were clearly a factor as Toy Story 3 clocked past $300 million, Sony’s Grown Ups inched closer to the century mark and Fox Searchlight comedy Cyrus elbowed its way up to number 10 with over $1 million. [For a full indie b.o. report, go to indieWIRE.]
The Monday following a July 4th Sunday is a much stronger day at the box office, so it’s possible that Eclipse might beat its projected estimate.  At this point in time, Eclipse came in just under the first six day tally of The Twilight Saga: New Moon which generated $178.9 million.
Summit's marketing effort for Eclipse paid off with slightly more males attending this round, compared to previous installments (35% male, 65% female), plus the crowd skewed slightly older than New Moon: 55% of those attending were over the age of 21, 45% under. Summit distribution president Richard Fay attributes the older demo to “the books broadening out and attracting the ‘Twilight’ moms to the movies.”
Previous male draws for the franchise repped 25% for Twilight and 20% for The Twilight Saga: New Moon.  Among the older skewing crowd, Twilight reported 45% over 25 while New Moon saw a 50/50 split over and under 21. Eclipse had no problem earning an A Cinemascore, which bodes well for its long term box-office legs.
This weekend’s success at the B.O. underscores that it’s easier for studios to maintain a solid franchise than to launch an unbranded title. Paramount had a Nickelodeon title to build from with Airbender; its longevity will determine whether there will be a sequel. A nasty C Cinemascore should put a damper on its word of mouth, but Paramount's Cloverfield and Shutter Island overcame that barrier and climbed to respectable B.O. figures.

Meanwhile audiences eagerly await Christopher Nolan's Inception. (Check back here Monday afternoon for my early online review and round-up.)
The Top Ten Chart reflects weekend figures from Friday through Monday and percent changes versus the previous four-day:
1. The Twilight Saga: Eclipse (Summit Entertainment ): $82.5 million  at 4,468 theaters in its first weekend.  $18,464 theater average.  Domestic total in six days: $175.3  million.
2. The Last Airbender (Paramount): $53.15 million at 3,169 theaters in its first weekend. $16,772 theater average.  Domestic total in five days: $70.5 million.
3. Toy Story 3 (Disney/Pixar): $42.2 million down 38% in its third weekend at 4,028 theaters. $10,482 theater average. Domestic total: $301.1 million.
4. Grown Ups (Sony): $26.5 million in its second weekend down 42% at 3,534 theaters.  $7,499 theater average.  Domestic total: $85.1 million.
5. Knight & Day (Fox): $14 million in its second weekend down 37% at 3,104 theaters.  $4,510 theater average.  Domestic total: $49.3 million.
6. The Karate Kid (Sony): $11.5 million in its fourth weekend down 35% at 3,109 theaters.  $3,699 theater average.  Domestic total: $155 million.
7. The A-Team (Fox): $4.275 million in its fourth weekend down 39% at 2,153 theaters.  1986 theater average. Domestic total: $70.4 million.
8. Get Him to the Greek (Universal): $1.7 million in its fifth weekend down 54% at 884 theaters.  $1,195 theater average.  Domestic total: $57.9 million.
9. Shrek Forever After (Paramount/DreamWorks): $1.258 million down 65% in its seventh weekend at 957 theaters. $1,315 theater average. Domestic total: $232.6 million.
10. Cyrus (Fox Searchlight): $1.02 million in its third weekend up 200% at 77 theaters.  $13,234 theater average.  Domestic total: $1.7 million.