Box Office Report: Ang Lee's 'Pi' Shows Unexpected Life

'Twilight' and 'Skyfall' still reign over Thanksgiving weekend

Pi Patel, Suraj Sharma, bengal tiger, richard parker, life of pi, box office
Rhythm & Hues
Pi Patel (Suraj Sharma) and a fierce Bengal tiger named Richard Parker must rely on each other to survive an epic journey.
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WINNER OF THE WEEK: Life of Pi. It's not like anyone expected Ang Lee's star-free movie about a boy and a tiger trapped together in a lifeboat to defeat the Volturi or James Bond. The top three movies were the same as last week: The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 2 (plunging 70 percent from last weekend to an estimated $43.1 million and a total so far of $227.0 million), followed by Skyfall (down a minuscule 12 percent to an estimated $36.0 million, for a three-week total of $221.7 million) and Lincoln (playing in an additional 243 venues, for a boost of 19 percent to an estimated $25.0 million, for a three-week total of $62.1 million). Still, Life of Pi was close behind, debuting in fifth place with an estimated $22.0 million. That's about twice what pundits expected it to make.

How to account for Pi's success? Part of it is strong reviews and word-of-mouth for the Oscar-baiting adaptation of Yann Martel's bestseller. Part of it is 3D surcharges that Oscar fare doesn't usually get to exploit. And maybe part of it is that there's no better weekend than Thanksgiving to release a movie with Pi in the title. Maybe holiday pastry fans were confused.

LOSER OF THE WEEK: Rise of the Guardians. The holiday-themed animated feature was expected to have the market to itself this weekend. It was supposed to challenge Skyfall for second place overall. Instead, it debuted in fourth place with an estimated $24.0 million. What happened? The reviews were good but could have been better; the competition is especially tough in the animated field this year. And rival family cartoon Wreck-It Ralph displayed surprisingly strong legs, still holding on at Number Six in its fourth week. In any case, Guardians doesn't seem likely to rise to a level high enough to make back its reported $145 million budget.

True, Guardians opened better than Red Dawn, but no one expected much from the remake of the Cold War action thriller, which has been gathering dust on studio shelves for three years. It opened at Number Seven with an estimated $14.6 million, doing about as well as experts had predicted.

TURKEY OR TRIUMPH? Looked at one way, the weekend's box office was slumping in a post-turkey-feast tryptophan coma. No new movies cracked the top three, and receipts for the top 12 movies came in at about $200 million, down more than 17 percent from last weekend. Ah, but if you count the five moviegoing days from Wednesday to Sunday, as box office analysts like to do on Thanksgiving weekend, then suddenly the distributors look like geniuses. The rankings don't change, but Twilight's five-day total rises to an estimated $64.0 million, Guardians to $32.6 million, Life of Pi to $30.2 million, and Red Dawn to $22.0 million. The gross for the top 12 films rises to $282 million, a Thanksgiving record, beating the same five-day period in 2009 by $12 million. Hurray! More pi – er, pie – for everyone!

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