My Wednesday prediction that this would be a healthy Thanksgiving weekend at the box office certainly proved true — and it was nice to see it wasn’t at the rest of the economy’s expense: holiday shopping actually went up slightly this year and went up a lot more virtually. Also, the movie everyone expected to hit number actually did one hit number one. However, looking beneath the surface just slightly, movie consumers were making some interesting choices.
The argument prognosticators were making last week was that Summit’s “The Twilight Saga: New Moon” pretty much had to come out on top because, considering its $142 million+ opening weekend, even if it suffered a catastrophic drop in its second weekend, it still would be ahead of everything else, and that’s pretty much what happened. The vampire-werewolf-human love triangle dropped a massive 70% but, as reported by Box Office Mojo‘s weekend chart and trade mag writers jolly Carl DiOrio and Pamela McClintock, it still earned an estimated $42.5. That was a mere $2.375 million ahead of this week’s surprise #2 film, “The Blind Side,” which not only actually won the box office race on Thanksgiving day (which is not included in the weekend tallies) but came refreshingly close to winning the weekend with $40.125 million. The five day total for the films offer a bit more air between the #1 and #2 spots, with an estimated $66 million for “New Moon” and just over $57.5 for “The Blind Side.”
The impressive aspect of the Sandra Bullock-led sports film/cross-cultural family drama combo is that it did something I don’t remember seeing whenever I’ve been paying close attention to grosses. In a world where we think it’s good if a film drops less than 45-50% on its second weekend, “The Blind Side” actually climbed 17.6% on its second go-round without a significant expansion (it went from being in 3,310 theaters to 3,340). I haven’t seen the film but I will say that this seems to be a sign that it’s possible what attracts most audiences today isn’t so different from what attracted them 50 or 75 years ago.
The #3 spot went to Roland Emmerich’s $200 million-budgeted eschatological roller-coaster ride, “2012,” with a weekend estimate of $18 million and a domestic total of $138 million. That means the critically-detested favorite for the #2 spot, Disney’s “Old Dogs,” actually came in at an ignominious #4. At least this one time the audience may be performing the new trick of agreeing with — if not actively listening to — critics.
I think it’s worth noting that, despite the picture’s “family-friendly” angle, this is a movie that skews towards an older audience because of its two late-middle-aged stars, John Travolta and Robin Williams. Older audiences are more discriminating, and might remember that both stars haven’t always exactly been discriminating themselves about their choice of films. Also, if you actually are getting older, the prospect of seeing a couple of stars making (bad) age-related jokes for two hours might not exactly be the kind of cinema pick-me-up you’re looking for. It’s way more fun to watch the world blow-up than being constantly reminded that your first Social Security check might not be so far away.
Intriguingly, “The Blind Side” was not the only film to actually increase ticket sales this weekend. Perhaps buoyed by the official start of the Christmas season and a paucity of commercially strong fantasy-oriented family fare, Disney’s “A Christmas Carol” climbed 30% while actually losing a few theaters for an estimated total of $16 million in the #5 spot. At #6 was another release, the R-rated, hyper-violent Wachowski brothers-produced “Ninja Assassin,” which earned $13.1 million ($21 million over the five day weekend).
After expanding into 2,033 theaters after a successful two-week limited run, Fox’s “Fantastic Mr. Fox” succumbed, I’m sorry to say, to the hounds of disappointing box office with a #9 showing of roughly $7 million. I’m sure the suits will be assuming that, though Wes Anderson might be a comedic king on the art-house circuit, he’s not ready for the mainstream — or, rather, the mainstream still isn’t quite ready for him. Whatever may have happened, it seems clear that “Fox” might have interested some parents, but — at least on a marketing level — it didn’t pass the kid test. Also, if the past is any guide, we can look forward to some George Clooney-bashing from Nikki Finke later this week. This is so clearly his fault.
Moving on to limited releases, in a special extra-high-priced two city engagement, Disney’s already much discussed “The Princess and the Frog” managed an unsurprising but absolutely spectacular estimated per screen average of $356,000. Other films possibly aimed at the Oscar market did fair-to-solid business, which we’ll be keeping an eye on here.
However, a more widespread high-profile limited release this week was “The Road” from the Weinstein Company. Universally seen as a mega-downer of epic proportions — a sort of realist version of a post-apocalyptic zombie flick played more as it would actually be, i.e., not a whole lot of fun and without colorful characters played by Woody Harrelson — the film earned roughly $1.5 million on 111 screens for a very respectable $13,721 per screen average. However, as we see with “Mr. Fox” above, general releases and limited releases are two very different beasts. The Cormac McCarthy adaptation’s path could be starting a long and murderous slog to Oscar season.