"Les Miserables" stormed the Christmas Day box office Tuesday, taking in an eye-popping $18.1 million on its first day of release. And Quentin Tarantino's "Django Unchained" wasn't far behind, debuting to $15 million.
Universal's star-studded musical and the Weinstein Company's R-rated slave-era Western posted the second- and third-best Christmas openings ever.
They trailed only 2009's "Sherlock Holmes," which benefited from a Friday debut. The "Django" opening is the highest of all time for an R-rated movie on Christmas, easily topping the $10.2 million put up by "Ali" in 2001.
"Parental Guidance," the Billy Crystal-Bette Midler family comedy got in on the fun, too. It finished the day in fourth with a better-than-expected $6.4 million. Warner Bros.' "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey" fell from the top spot for the first time in two weeks but still added $11.3 million and was No. 3. "The Hobbit" is expected to play strongly while school is out so the order could change by the weekend.
Audiences loved the new movies. "Les Miz" received an "A" CinemaScore while "Django" and the other Christmas opener, Fox's "Parental Guidance," received an "A-" from first-day crowds.
Both Universal and the Weinstein Co. thought Christmas launches were ideal for their films, but the results exceeded their expectations and those of analysts, who saw the films opening in the low-teen millions With screens at a premium in a very crowded marketplace, "Django" was in 3,010 theaters, with "Les Miz" in 2,808 theaters. Advance sales were strong, particularly for "Les Miz," which has done more Fandango and MovieTickets business than any previous musical or Christmas release.
The PG-13 “Les Miserables” certainly seems like holiday fare, and played that way. Director Tom Hooper’s take on Victor Hugo’s classic tale features Hugh Jackman and Russell Crowe, along with Anne Hathaway.
"Django," conversely, a violent tale of a former slave wreaking vengeance proved to be ideal counter-programming to the lighter fare that dominated the holiday box office. “Django” stars Jamie Foxx, Leonardo DiCaprio, Christoph Waltz and Samuel L. Jackson.
"We're thrilled," the Weinstein Company's head of distribution Erik Lomis told TheWrap Wednesday. "This was a team effort, and the filmmaking, marketing and publicity all came together.
As expected, "Django" played strongly with males, who made up 56 percent of the audience. That's broader than expected. Fifty-two percent of the audience was under 35 years of age. Universal didn't have demographic breakdowns available on "Les Miz."
Universal reported Wednesday that "Les Miserables, which has opened overseas in Australia, Hong Kong, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Singapore and Spain, has taken in $23.4 million from abroad.
"Zero Dark Thirty" continued to generate big numbers in its limited release. Kathryn Bigelow's dramatization of the hunt for Osama bin Laden took in $112,094 on five screens Tuesday for an overall gross to date of $868,784.