North American box office: ‘Four Christmases’ kicks off the holiday season

Late this week. This is what I get for deciding I’d rather be right than first with the box office numbers — which means waiting till Monday afternoon when the actual numbers come in rather than jumping in as soon as the weekend estimates appear on Sunday. Which means if I’m totally otherwise occupied with non-movie stuff on a Monday, like I was this week, I can’t even prepare this in advance. Which means that then half the week has gotten away from me before I can get around to it. *sigh*

Anyway, these are the actual five-day numbers, from Wednesday (Thanksgiving Eve) through Sunday. As the numbers bear out, this is a big weekend for moviegoing, which apparently got a bit of a boost as people killed time at mall multiplexes on Thursday night while waiting out early-Friday-morning store openings:

1. Four Christmases: $46 million (NEW)
2. Twilight: $39.5 million (2nd week; drops 43%)
3. Bolt: $36 million (2nd week; up 37%)
4. Quantum of Solace: $27.5 million (3rd week; up 3%)
5. Australia: $20 million (NEW)

actual numbers, not estimates
Forty-six mill for the throwaway, conform-conform crap of Four Christmases is a bit disturbing, though I guess there’s always going to be a market for movies that reassure mainstream audiences that their status quo — get married! have babies! — is the Right Way to Live. Just the three-day, Friday-through-Sunday weekend, which Christmases ruled to the tune of $31 million, is close to the record openings for other films that Vince Vaughn and Reese Witherspoon can be said to have opened on the strength of their star power alone. I dunno: maybe it’s just that people really like Vaughn and Witherspoon. I certainly do. I do prefer, though, their more subversive movies to this one.

Twilight’s drop is hardly unexpected — it’s actually in third place, behind Bolt, for the three-day, which means it kept losing audience as the weekend went on. All the tween fangirls already saw it last weekend, and it’ll do extremely well on video as they all give DVDs to one another for their 13th birthdays next spring, but no matter: the movie’s made almost $120 million in North America alone in only 10 days, and it cost a relatively paltry $37 million to produce. Everyone involved will be happy about that.

Look at Bolt, though: a 37 percent jump in attendance? I gotta think that good word of mouth helped this one as much as the holiday did. It’s a sweeter movie than I expected, and that may have been true for audiences too, who then went on to rave about it to their friends. Holiday weekends never hurt when it comes to movies appealing to kids and families, either — most people simply do not go to the movies that often, but holiday weekends, when the youngsters need entertaining or the whole family needs a treat, are big occasions for a trip to the theater.

If we want to talk about what audiences are craving, let’s look at the per-screen averages. The winner here, over the five-day, was, handily, Milk, Gus Van Sant’s biopic of the first openly gay politician: it was playing in only 36 theaters, but it earned $1.9 million over the five-day, which breaks down to a per-screen average of $53,930. (Four Christmases’ was, for comparison’s sake, $13,914, which is pretty impressive itself.) That speaks to a lot of pent-up demand for gay-themed films, even films that are otherwise very conventional, as this one is; smart studio execs should be clamoring this week to find other gay-but-not-radical movies to greenlight… and if they’re not doing so now, they will as soon as Sean Penn receives an Oscar nomination for his performance. Look for a glut of similar movies in a year or two.

Slumdog Millionaire did extremely well too, earning $36,062 at each of the 49 theaters at which it was playing: it added 17 screens for the holiday weekend but saw a jump in takings of 86 percent, which is just crazy. Not to denigrate the film’s appeal on its own at all, but I wonder whether the terrorist attack and siege in Mumbai, which dominated the news over the holiday, drove some people to the film, which was shot and set in that city.

This coming weekend is kinda dead — it’s hard to imagine that Punisher: War Zone (trailer here) will make much of a splash. But the week after comes what will arguably be the biggest geek movie of the holiday season, The Day the Earth Stood Still (trailer here)… though even that one doesn’t feel like it’s gonna be huge (as much as I personally, as a geek, am looking forward to it). It’s gonna be an interesting holiday season to watch…

[numbers via Box Office Mojo]

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