This week, most of whatever suspense there was was not at all about which movie will be #1 or, as it turns out, #2 (not quite a 100% sure thing earlier). It had to do with what actually matters when the show business rubber meets the audience road: how much cash did the movies generate from the summer’s biggest holiday weekend but amid gloomy news and gloomier punditry regarding the economy? The answer seems to be what Joel McCrea learned at the end of “Sullivan’s Travels,” people in dire straights need entertainment and fantasy more, not less. I only wish they were getting something as thoughtful as “Ants in Your Plants of 1939.”

Edward and Bella...ooooohhhhhhhhhOver the three day Friday-Sunday weekend, Summit’s “The Twilight Saga: Eclipse” earned an estimated $69 million according to the Box Office Mojo chart. For the broader and potentially confusing numbers covering the extended movie weekends for the two new major new releases this week, I’ll rely on Anne Thompson’s pal Anthony D’Alessandro. He tells us “Eclipse” earned an estimated $175 million and change, just a few million bucks below the similar six-day frame of 2004’s “Spiderman 2,” though not adjusted for ongoing movie-ticket inflation.

This is the point in the series ordinarily where some might wonder if interest is starting to flag, but this is a long-running movie/book soap opera and a continuing tale similar to the Harry Potter in terms of fan interest/involvement. Also, this entry overall got significantly better reviews than the second film in the series, which might indicate the film itself is more boyfriend friendly for this very female-driven franchise.

D’Alessandro notes a Twilight “halo effect” and it didn’t hurt M. Night Shyamalan and Paramount’s animation adaptation, “The Last Airbender.” The martial arts fantasy is getting horrendous reviews that make the somewhat legendary critical hate mail for “Tranformers: Revenge of the Fallen” look like love letters. However, before someone starts whinging about critics being “out of touch,” the audiences who doled out their hard-earned cash to see the movie (and their kids, of course) gave the film an overall rating of C on Cinemascore’s moviegoer survey.

Wire fu tai chi exercises

Still, dole out the cash they did and the film earned a $40.5 million over the weekend and a very nice $70.5 million over its entire holiday period (one day shorter than it was for “Eclipse”). That has the film edging closer to the halfway point of covering its $150 milliion budget — an awful lot for a film that didn’t impress with its effects and without any major stars.

Of course, younger men are driving this film, and I’m sure the fact that it’s a PG-rated version of a TV series aimed at kids makes this a family film, whether or not parents really want to be there at all, isn’t hurting. Still, let’s see if that uninspiring Cinemascore rating and the general feeling that the movie kind of stinks comes home to roost next week. The film did score below average on one metric, which is that its heavily slammed retrofit 3-D accounted for only 54% of sales, which is 6% below the average right now.

Overall, it was just a very nice weekend for big mainstream movies. Disney/Pixar’s  critics and audience beloved “Toy Story 3” earned $30.2 million and “Grown-Ups,” which was hated by critics about  as much as “Airbender,” grossed $19.1 million, and so on.

John C. Reilly and Jonah Hill in There was also so decent action in the world of limited releases. Indeed, “Cyrus” managed to become break into the bottom of the top 10 with only 77 screens, earning $774,000 and looking like a real possibility for this year’s break-out indie comedy. It’s less cuddly than a “Juno” or a “Little Miss Sunshine,” which is one of the things I admit to liking about it — though it’s also arguably not as dark as it should be. Still, funny is funny, and it’s very funny.

Other movies looking good according to Indiewire’s Peter Knegt are “Winter’s Bone,” which is looking like this year’s “Frozen River” in more ways than one, and the critically praised and apparently rather sexy Italian drama, “I Am Love.” I admit that one has flown under my radar despite getting very good reviews and the fact that Tilda Swinton apparently learned both Russian and Italian to appear in it.

On the other hand, there is “The Killer Inside Me.” I suggested on Friday that it might continue its trend of underwhelming business, because, I suspect, people are not in the mood for ultra-violence right now, outside of a horror fantasy context, in any case, and I’m not sure even then. Certainly, writer-director Michael Winterbottom’s commitment to making a couple of key scenes as realistically unpleasant to sit-through as possible isn’t exactly the box office come on of the year. But “Kick-Ass,” which was marketed as purely goofy entertainment, was a commercial disappointment to some degree. Could the movie audience have finally hit a wall in terms of pushing the violence envelope, at least outside the very limited extreme horror market? These things tend to be cyclic, an d I have no clue, but I also have no clue as the grosses of “The Killer Inside Me.” It doesn’t seem to have registered.

The other issue might be that indie films need to get a substantial majority of critics to like them to do well. The week’s other big indie disappointment — with a super-meh $49,500 from eleven screens — was the critically dissed Helen Mirren/Joe Pesci/Taylor Hackford collaboration about the early days of Northern Nevada’s legalized prostitution, “Love Ranch.” Sex sells a lot of the time. However, at art houses today, it really helps if the critics are excited.