WINNER OF THE WEEK: The Best Man Holiday. Sure, it opened in second place and failed to dethrone Thor: The Dark World, but no one expected it to top the chart. Still, the romantic dramedy sequel far outperformed expectations. After all, it's the sequel to a movie that came out 14 years ago and did only $34 million in total business back then (about $54 million at today's prices). But this weekend, Holiday opened with an estimated $30.6 million, or nearly as much in three days as The Best Man earned during its whole run. It's also about 8 to 12 million more than pundits had predicted.
Holiday was the beneficiary of a lot of good luck this weekend. There were no other new wide release movies; there would have been, but Fox decided to go with a limited release last week for The Book Thief, while Paramount pushed The Wolf of Wall Street back to Christmastime. Of course, it also helped that the movie earned good reviews and top-notch word-of-mouth (in the form of an A+ grade at CinemaScore). Finally, it looks like everyone, including Universal, underestimated the fan base that had accumulated around The Best Man over the past 14 years, as the movie aired countless times on cable, and as cast members like Taye Diggs and Terrence Howard became bigger stars. Then again, the studios (and everyone else) tend to underestimate the audience for movies with African-American casts that play well to audiences over 35, offer plenty of actorly eye candy for the ladies, are intelligently crafted and don't have Tyler Perry's name attached.
Holiday came in just $7.9 million behind Thor: The Dark World. In its second week on top, the superhero saga fell 55 percent, about what was expected, to $38.5 million, for a ten-day domestic total of $147.0 million. It's closing in fast on the $181 million that the 2011 Thor earned during its entire American run.
Rounding out the top five were three holdouts with much more modest declines in sales. In third place, Last Vegas earned an estimated $8.9 million, down 20 percent from last week, for a three-week total of $47.0 million. Close behind, Free Birds took in an estimated $8.3 million, a drop of 25 percent from a week ago, for a total of $42.2 million in its third weekend. At Number Five, Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa grabbed an estimated $7.7 million, a dip of 32 percent from last week, crossing the $90 million mark in its fourth weekend.
LOSER OF THE WEEK: Shia LaBeouf. Remember when he was a big star, sort of? Those days seem to have passed, judging by the debut of his crime drama Charlie Countryman. Opening on 15 screens, it took in an estimated $8,600. That's an averaged of just $573 per screen, meaning that, in each theater where it played, only about 23 people came to see it each day. Maybe the film needed some giant robots.
BRUUUUUUCE! At the other end of the per-screen average spectrum, Nebraska debuted in four venues with an estimated $140,000, or $35,000 per screen. Credit the good will that art-house moviegoers have for director Alexander Payne (The Descendants, Sideways), but also the tremendous Oscar buzz for 77-year-old Bruce Dern as a cranky senior on a quest to claim a sweepstakes windfall he believes he's won. That huge per-screen average, far and away the biggest of any current movie, suggests he's well on his way to collecting some gold as the movie expands nationwide in the coming weeks.
Also opening strong, on a per-screen basis, was The Christmas Candle, a holiday fable set in a magical English village, a movie that marks the big-screen debuts of both singer Susan Boyle and former Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum (it's the first film put out by Echo Light Studios since the former Pennsylvania senator became its CEO in June). Candle took in an estimated $75,600 on five screens, for an average of $15,120. That's a near-tie with the $15,115 averaged by The Best Man Holiday. And close behind was The Book Thief in its second week of limited release. The Holocaust drama earned another estimated $425,000 on 29 screens, averaging $14,655 per venue, for a ten-day total of $569,000. Guess that platform release was the right strategy after all.