North American box office: ‘The Princess and the Frog’ goes wide and big…

…but can it hold on through the holidays?

1. The Princess and the Frog: $24.2 million (NEW in wide release)
2. The Blind Side: $15.1 million (4th week; drops 25%)
3. Invictus: $8.6 million (NEW)
4. The Twilight Saga: New Moon: $8 million (4th week; drops 48%)
5. A Christmas Carol: $6.8 million

actual numbers, not estimates
It’s now official: 2009 is the biggest year for Hollywood ever in terms of ticket sales — passing $9.7 billion last week, according to Box Office Mojo — and Avatar hasn’t taken in a penny yet. (Attendance is down, however, from the record year of 2002.)

The Princess and the Frog, however, fell short of the Sunday estimates by $800,000, which is pretty substantial, and suggests that word of mouth may not be great. Like A Christmas Carol, though, this one should have legs through the holidays, at least until the kids go back to school, though it remains to be seen what kind of fall it takes this coming weekend. With actuals so significantly off the estimates, though, I’m guessing we’ll see a drop of at least 50 percent.

Prepare for more feel-good sports movies with female protagonists: The Blind Side cannot be stopped. It had earned just under $150 million by the end of last weekend, and will likely hold strong this weekend as counterprogramming to Avatar. My predictions: Look for Katherine Heigl coaching a kids’ soccer team next summer; Jennifer Aniston in love with a paraplegic baseball hero next fall; and Reese Witherspoon as a tough-as-nails sports agent who learns the true meaning of basketball next Christmas.

Per-screen wise, the top films were all potential awards contenders, or films already garnering laurels from critics’ groups:

1. The Lovely Bones: $38,872 (on each of 3 screens)
2. Up in the Air: $33,255 (72 screens)
3. A Single Man: $24,148 (9 screens)
4. Broken Embraces: $18,255 (6 screens)
5. The Princess and the Frog: $7,050 (at each of 3,434 venues)

Up in the Air’s per-screen is pretty amazing for that relatively large number of screens, and bodes well for its wide release next week. (All the critics’ awards aren’t hurting, either.)

[numbers via Box Office Mojo]

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