Box Office: ‘Breaking Dawn’ takes the weekend as ‘Descendants’ soars

You can’t keep a good vampire down these days.  Certainly not one with a strong fan base.  “The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn, Pt. 1” continued it’s reign at the box office with another $62.3 million over the Thanksgiving frame and $221.3 million to date.  That’s less than $8 million behind where the second installment in the franchise and last November release, “New Moon,” was in its $296 million run.  “Breaking Dawn, Pt. 1” could easily climb to $280 million plus over the next two months.  Right now, it’s already the fifth biggest film of 2011 and should climb to the third slot behind “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Pt. 2” and “Transformers: Dark of the Moon” when all is said and done.

Debuting in second was Jason Segel’s passion project, “The Muppets.” The critically acclaimed return of Jim Henson’s creations pulled in $42 million over its first five days.  That cume was likely tempered by a glut of other family films in the marketplace, but it’s a great start for the Walt Disney Studios release.

Third place went to “Happy Feet Two” which found $13.4 million over the three-day for just $43.7 million in 10 days. That’s extremely disappointing considering the original ended up with $198 million in 2006 without the benefit of higher 3D ticket prices. Warner Bros. will be lucky to hit $80 million with this one domestically.

A bigger disappointment was Aardman and Sony Pictures Animations’ “Arthur Christmas.”  It pulled in just $16.9 million over the five-day.  If there was one film that suffered the most because of too many family releases it was “Arthur.”

A strange player was Martin Scorsese’s critically acclaimed “Hugo” which grossed $15.3 million on just 1,277. That lead to a very strong $8,888 per screen (slightly higher than “The Muppets'” $8,576). “Hugo” will need for other 3D players such as “Happy Feet Two” and “Arthur Christmas” to lose more screens in order for it to bump up to enough 3D theaters to really make a financial impact.  “Hugo” cost over $100 million and that will likely have to be made up overseas.

Increasing to 404 theaters on Friday was Alexander Payne’s “The Descendants.” This lead to a spectacular $7.2 million weekend or $16,628 per screen.  With $10.7 million so far, the Oscar contender is a surefire hit for Fox Searchlight and could easily find itself grossing close to the $83 million Paramount’s “Up in the Air,” another Clooney Oscar player, made two years ago.

“My Week with Marilyn” has a solid start in 244 theaters with $2 million since debuting on Wednesday.  The Michelle Williams as Marilyn Monroe starrer will play the awards season game hoping best actress nominations fuel long term box office on this one.

The Weinstein Company can be much happier with the opening of yet another awards season contender, “The Artist.” Hitting theaters on Friday, the ode to Hollywood’s silent era had a superb 3-day debut with $210,414 or $52,604 per screen in just four theaters.  That’s one of the best limited openers of the years so far. 

Sony Classics’ “A Dangerous Method” also debuted in four screens grossing $240,944 since Wednesday.  That’s a strong opener for an indie division that has had its share of disappointments over the past few months with “Take Shelter” and “The Skin I Live In.”

After years (decades) of trying to open a film the first weekend after Thanksgiving (the busiest shopping weekend of the year), Hollywood has no major releases debuting.  Look for “The Descendants” to take advantage, however, and expand to more markets across the nation.

Box office actuals are released on Monday.