What was supposed to be a big holiday weekend for family fare was dominated by week No. 2 of a vampire movie; still, “Muppets” did well enough for Disney to talk sequel
It was a Thanksgiving holiday box office more filled than usual with PG movies. But the vampires and werewolves of "The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn — Part 1" ruled domestic multiplexes for the second straight weekend, taking $62.3 million over the five-day Thanksgiving holiday period, according to studio estimates.
Disney's "The Muppets" was the only family film to make a dent at the box office, debuting to a solid $42 million.
Warner's disappointing "Happy Feet Two" finished No. 3 in its second weekend, taking an estimated $18.5 over the five days.
Both expensive films only matched or narrowly exceeded low pre-release estimates.
The overall box office was down 12 percent compared to the five-day Thanksgiving weekend last year.
Last year, Disney's animated "Tangled" opened to $68.7 million over the five-day holiday, going up against weekend No. 2 of Warner's penultimate "Harry Potter" movie and weekend No. 4 of DreamWorks Animation's "Megamind."
One distribution executive speculated that the glut of family films oversaturated the market this weekend.
"You had a pretty fragmented audience," Chris Aronson, Fox's senior VP for domestic distribution, told TheWrap. "Comparing it to last year, your No. 2 and No. 3 were 'Tangled' and 'Megamind.' Two family animateds, one Disney, one DreamWorks. And the other top films were more adult offerings."
There were a few offerings for grown-ups. The Weinstein Company opened "My Week With Marilyn" and "The Artist" in limited release. "Marilyn" grossed a solid $2 million in 244 locations and "The Artist" took in about $210,000 in four theaters.
Fox Searchlight's R-rated "The Descendants," in 433 theaters, spent its second weekend in a row in the top 10. It grossed an estimated $9.2 million over five days and $7.2 million over three days.
Dave Hollis, Disney's distribution chief, told TheWrap that he had expected the PG-rated "The Muppets" to gross in the upper $30 million range for the five days.
The success, he said, will mean more Muppets across the board.
"The value of 'The Muppets' isn't just about the theatrical run," he said. "It's about how we might take advantage of this across multiple lines of business. This opens the door for us to think about how the Muppets can be showcased in a variety of different ways."
Hollis said "The Muppets" cost about $45 million to make. The moviegoer survey firm Cinemascore rated it at an "A." And it took in $29.5 million over three days.
The movie, directed by James Bobin, is about the popular puppets trying to save their old theater from a greedy oil tycoon.
"We needed to make this film to bring these characters back," Hollis said. "It is a bit of a testament to the power of the Walt Disney Company and the power of the characters combined."
He said that now, "you take a property like this, have it permeate in every way possible the social consciousness of people in every medium possible, have a great theatrical opening and then watch it become a meaningful thing for consumers to interact with in a bunch of different ways."
That means merchandise and, perhaps, more movies, he said, noting that the film's soundtrack is the top soundtrack on iTunes.
"I expect more Muppets everywhere — and everywhere would theoretically include the movie theater," he said.
Even the competition tipped its hat to "The Muppets."
Don Harris, Paramount's distribution chief, told TheWrap that, "It's certainly important, if you're going to recreate the franchise, you'd better do it well the first movie out — and they apparently did."
The No. 4 movie of the weekend, "Arthur Christmas," took in $12.7 million over three days and $17 million for the long weekend. It cost $98 million to make.
The PG-rated film received an "A-minus" Cinemascore and skewed female: 59 percent of the audience was made up of women and 31 percent was younger than 25. For children younger than 12, the audience was 53 percent boys.
The movie, directed by television director Sarah Smith, answers the question, according to a studio tagline, “How does Santa deliver all those presents in one night?”
Rory Bruer, Sony's distribution chief, told TheWrap that the animated movie, which was projected to gross somewhere in the mid-to-high teens, is the only movie specifically about Christmas and is likely to have a strong run.
He noted that in England, the animated movie has posted solid results for several weeks.
"It just continues to go up weekend after weekend," he said.
The movie grossed $3.9 million in the U.K. this weekend — a 6 percent increase over last weekend. It now has grossed $12.7 million in the U.K. and $22.3 million overseas.
Paramount, meanwhile, had projected that "Hugo" would take in $10 million- $12 million over the five days. It cost an estimated $150 million to make.
The film opened at 1,277 locations compared to 3,440 for "The Muppets" and 3,376 for "Arthur Christmas."
"We decided to scale back our release pattern over the Thanksgiving weekend when we saw the kind of reaction we were getting from critics, from the Academy, from the New York Film Festival," Paramount's Harris said. "We thought if we're able to support this movie and use the reviews as the asset to market the movie as we go forward, we're going to have more money at the end of the day than if we just blow it out over Thanksgiving."
He said the movie will roll out to more theaters and have a wide release Dec. 9. Until then, Cinemascores and demographic information won't be available.
He did know that in its first weekend, about 75 percent of the movie's gross came from 3D screens.
The movie, produced and financed by Graham King's GK Films, is set in Paris in the 1930s.
It is about an orphan who lives in a train station and finds himself wrapped up in a mystery involving his late father, himself and a robot. It stars Ben Kingsley, Sacha Baron Cohen and Chloe Moretz. Asa Butterfield stars as the title character.
Fox, meanwhile, sneak-peeked its "We Bought a Zoo" in 800 locations. (The film opens wide on Dec. 23.)
"Reactions were absolutely through the roof," Aronson said. "We had families and nonfamilies alike. We couldn't be happier with the reactions."
Next week's box office champ is certain to be another holdover: No new films are opening in wide release until Dec. 9, when Fox debuts "We Bought a Zoo" and Warner Bros. opens "New Year's Eve."