11/28/2011 09:44 am ET | Updated Jan 28, 2012

Weekend Box Office: Breaking Dawn, Part I Tops Thanksgiving Weekend, Muppets Shines in Family Film Pile-up

 As expected, Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn part I (essay) topped the holiday weekend box office as three new family films (including The Muppets) and three limited releases more-or-less cannibalized each other.  The big opener of the weekend was The Muppets (review).  All eyes were watching this much-hyped franchise revival, and the fans did not let Kermit and company down.  The picture, which Disney wisely spent just $45 million to produce, grossed $29.5 million on Fri-Sun and $42 million over its five-day opening.  The film (deservedly) scored an A from Cinemascore, although I don't know the demo stats yet (IE - did kids actually choose to see it and/or like it, or were the jerks dragged by their parents?).  As it is, the film is already the second biggest grossing Muppet movie of all time, out of seven, coming in under the $65 million gross of The Muppet Movie back in 1979.  Inflation-wise, The Muppets will have to gross $90 million to achieve that rank, although surpassing the adjusted-for-inflation $206 million gross of The Muppet Movie is pretty unlikely.  In even better (if arbitrary) news, the utter lack of any wide releases next weekend plus the likely downward plunge for Breaking Dawn part I means that The Muppets will likely top the box office next weekend.  So there clearly is an audience for this 35-year-old franchise; all Disney has to do now is not overestimate their appeal.  Point being, if Disney decides to make a film sequel (as opposed to a new TV series or what-have-you), they shouldn't be spending $100 million on it.

The bad news started with the next major new release, Arthur Christmas.  The film debuted with $12 million over the Fri-Sun period and $17 million over the holiday.  Considering it was up against far more established properties, it's not a terrible debut.  But, the Aardman film cost $85 million and isn't making much of an impact in its foreign engagements either (it's at $39 million worldwide with most of its business coming from the UK).  Still, it's the only Christmas-centric movie playing over the next month and it's a pretty cute and clever cartoon.  Compared to The Muppets and Hugo, it's a bit insignificant (it's similar to An American Tail: Fievel Goes West opening against Beauty and the Beast), but it's pleasant and entertaining and may pick up steam as the casual family moviegoing choice for those who have already seen The Muppets or Puss in Boots (now at $136 million) and are intimidated by Hugo (don't be, your kids are smarter than you think).  The next two weekends will tell the tale.

The last wide release was Martin Scorsese's Hugo (review), which debuted to $11.4 million over the Fri-Sun portion and $15.4 million over the long holiday.  The film was only playing on 1,200 screens so it has a pretty terrific per-screen average of nearly $10,000 per screen over the Fri-Sun portion.  But this film cost around $140 million, so Paramount is going to need some uncommonly strong legs, plus big overseas business to put this one in the black.  Both of these things are possible, as the Paris-set period film is one of the finest pictures of the year and has absolutely jaw-dropping 3D photography that puts pretty much every such effort to shame (even James Cameron admitted as much).  On principle, I'd say that $140 million is far too much to spend on a 1930s Paris-set kids-centric drama with no real stars and a somewhat limited audience.  On the other hand, the money is absolutely on the screen and it's a terrific piece of high-quality entertainment.  So even if the film doesn't pick up steam in the weeks ahead, we can pretend that Paramount used some of its Transformers profits for to market this one (GK Films funded the production) and call it an 'art-over commerce' mitzvah.
Going slightly wide in 390 theaters was Alexander Payne's The Descendants (review and essay).  The Oscar contender grossed a solid $9 million over the five-day weekend and is now over the $10 million mark.  It's too early to guess if this will come anywhere near the $83 million gross of Clooney's Up in the Air, as this one went a little wider a little faster.  On the plus side, it's expansion and performance somewhat more closely matches Payne's last picture, Sideways.  That film, which eventually grossed $71 million, was on 497 screens by Thanksgiving and had amassed $9.9 million.  Two Weinstein Oscar contenders opened in limited release over the weekend as well. My Week With Marilyn, which is getting rave reviews more for Michelle Williams's performance as Marilyn Monroe than for the film itself, opened with $1.7 million on 244 screens, for an okay $7,266 per screen average.  Best Picture contender The Artist opened on four screens and scored $52,000 on each of those screens.  Both will expand in the coming weeks as they try to get Oscar love and box office glory.  Also scoring in limited release was the four-screen debut of David Cronenberg's A Dangerous Method.  The Frued vs. Jung romantic thriller earned a whopping $45,000 per screen and will likely expand over the next month.

This article continues at Mendelson's Memos

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