‘Marley’, ‘Benjamin Button’ Lead Potent Xmas Weekend

After a poor showing the last two weeks, four new star-powered films injected some much needed life resulting in one of the strongest holiday weekends on record at the box office.

Leading the way, Marley and Me beat expectations by a significant margin with a cheerful $50.7 million from 3,480 theaters since its Christmas Day debut; $36.4 million of that came from the traditional Friday-Sunday period.  The $14.4 million Thursday tally from the Owen Wilson-Jennifer Anniston collaboration was the largest Christmas debut ever, dethroning the seven year old record previously set by Ali.

Marley and Me is a bittersweet end to an otherwise dismal year for 20th Century Fox. The canine-featured comedy is the studio’s first real success since Horton Hears a Who!, which debuted over nine months ago.

Meanwhile, Paramount finished off a banner year with an impressive opening from The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. The 4 day tally of $38.7 million ($26.9 million from Fri-Sun) from 2,988 theaters is the highest on record for a David Fincher direction and is one of the stronger starts for actor Brad Pitt as well. The story of a man who ages backwards is one of the higher profile contenders of the awards season, and audiences clearly responded well. With the combination of the holiday and awards season, Benjamin Button could enjoy a very leggy run.

Bedtime Stories, Adam Sandler’s first film under the Disney label performed within expectations with $38 million from a very wide 3,681 theaters since Thursday and $27.5 million over the weekend. The fantasy’s debut was slightly below Night at the Museum, a similar film from Christmas 2006 starring Ben Stiller, but holiday films targeting families typically have enormous multipliers so Bedtime Stories should end up being very profitable for Disney. The multiplier refers to the ratio of a given film’s total box office to its opening weekend. Helping matters is strong word-of-mouth despite the typically poor reviews that a Sandler film receives.

Valkyrie proved that Tom Cruise still is a bona fide star with a solid 4th place showing of $29.5 million from 2,711 theaters. It’s $21 million Friday-Sunday opening would have been enough for the top spot last weekend, which is indicative of how potent the new releases were. The World War II Nazi drama was a tough sell to moviegoers, which makes its debut all the more impressive.

>>No Holiday Cheer for ‘The Spirit’>>

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Box Office Data Source: Box Office Mojo & The Numbers

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No Holiday Cheer for ‘The Spirit’

<<‘Marley’, ‘Benjamin Button’ Lead Potent Xmas Weekend<<

Not all of the new releases enjoyed a strong start. Debuting well back in 9th place was The Spirit which tanked with just $6.5 million from 2,509 theaters over the weekend and $10.3 million including Thursday. The debut was a mere fraction of the launches from Frank Miller’s previous efforts, 300 and Sin City. Even worse is the collapse of the film as the weekend progressed. It debuted with an already disappointing $3.8 million on Thursday, but it fell a disturbing 32% on Friday and continued to slide on Saturday and Sunday.

All of this happened despite a decent cast and an aggressive marketing campaign from Lionsgate, which has been suffering from growing pains this year in its effort to become a major studio.

Yes Man fared the best among last week’s trio of new releases with a 9% dip to $16.7 million, good enough for 5th. It’s $49.8 million 10 day haul is similar to Jim Carrey’s previous December comedy, Fun with Dick and Jane. Meanwhile, Seven Pounds continues to underperform for a Will Smith picture. It only dipped 11% for a $13.2 million weekend, but the running total of $38.8 million is well behind nearly every other film from Smith this decade.

In 7th, the computer animation, The Tale of Despereaux slid 12% for $8.9 million in its second weekend. The 10 day total stands at a modest $27.4 million for the Universal Studios production. The Day the Earth Stood Still continued to quietly fall with its 22% decline to $7.7 million. It’s 17 day total of $63.5 million is well below expectations, and $100 million is now likely out of reach for 20th Century Fox.

Rounding out the top 10th was Doubt, which expanded into wide release on Christmas. Over the weekend, the awards hopeful gathered $5.3 million from a modest 1,267 theaters resulting in a decent $4,214 per theater average. The total has risen to $8.5 million.

The high number of new releases and the passing of X-mas caused Four Christmases to fall from 5th to 11th. The Vaughn-Witherspoon comedy fell 37% to $4.8 million. After 6 weeks, the WB film has earned a strong $111.6 million and will likely finish with around $125 million. Twilight continued to display some staying power with a small 9% drop to $4.7 million, despite losing nearly 40% of its screens. With $167.3 million so far, the vampire romance stands a chance at becoming the highest grossing picture of the holiday season.

In 14th place but still very relevant, Bolt‘s $3.4 million was enough to push it past $100 million over the weekend. The Disney animation will likely finish around $115 million. Fellow November release, Quantum of Solace, finished in 17th with $1.4 million. The latest Bond film has shot up $164.3 million and will likely overtake Casino Royale to become the highest grossing film in the long-running franchise.

The expensive Fox dud, Australia, collapsed 50% to $1.1 million, mainly because of a severe loss to its theater count. With just $44.3 million domestically, the Nicole Kidman epic will need strong international performances for it to have any chance at profitability. Rounding out the top 20 was Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa with $923,018. Its solid $174.9 million total is the highest of the season, though Twilight will soon overtake it.

<<‘Marley’, ‘Benjamin Button’ Lead Potent Xmas Weekend<<

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Box Office Data Source: Box Office Mojo & The Numbers