WINNERS OF THE WEEK: The little guys. And by that we mean Bilbo and his dwarf pals, plus Tom Cruise and Paul Rudd. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey fell an expected 57 percent in its second weekend and still easily defeated an army of holiday weekend newcomers with an estimated haul of $36.7 million, good for a 10-day total of $149.9 million. Debuting in a distant second place was Cruise’s action thriller Jack Reacher, opening with an estimated $15.6 million. Rudd, star of Judd Apatow’s comedy This Is 40, saw his movie premiere in third place with an estimated $12.0 million. Rounding out the top five were holdovers Rise of the Guardians (the holiday cartoon took in an estimated $5.9 million, down just 18 percent from a week ago, for a five-week total of $79.7 million) and Lincoln (the biopic earned an estimated $5.6 million, down a modest 20 percent, for a seven-week total of $116.8 million).
None of this week’s earnings were huge numbers, but that’s to be expected on a Christmas weekend that saw no fewer than five new nationwide releases. Plus, movies in theaters at this time of year tend to have strong legs, lasting for weeks and racking up totals that belie their low openings. So none of these little guys has anything to complain about.
LOSERS OF THE WEEK: Copycats. In a crowded marketplace, it probably wasn’t a good idea to open the Barbra Streisand-Seth Rogen vehicle The Guilt Trip opposite This Is 40, with both comedies aiming at the same older female audience. Guilt tripped into a sixth-place debut with just a $5.4 million estimated take. Similarly, with Guardians still strong, why did studios release not one but two family 3D features? Disney/Pixar’s retrofitted Monsters, Inc., which is little more than an attempt to remind people of the 11-year-old movie’s existence in time for next summer’s sequel, Monsters University, premiered in seventh place with just $5.0 million, a fairly weak number for a 3D film playing on 2,600 screens. And Cirque Du Soleil: Worlds Away, the 3D acrobatic spectacle playing on just 840 screens, barely missed out on a top-10 slot, opening in 11th place with an estimated $2.1 million.
CHRISTMAS WILD CARDS: With Christmas falling on a Tuesday this year, the box office weekend isn’t really over until the fat man sings. Three latecomers that don’t open until December 25th will be vying for Christmas Day bragging rights. The biggest may be Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained, which (like Jack Reacher) should put the lie to the notion that yuletide audiences traumatized by last weekend’s schoolhouse massacre in Connecticut don’t want to see ultraviolent entertainment right now. On the other hand, all-star musical Les Miserables has been generating brisk advance sales. Caught in the middle will probably be Billy Crystal and Bette Midler’s comedy Parental Guidance, going after both the older crowds seeing 40 and Guilt and families with kids too young to recognize the two stars.
The other holiday wild cards are the independent movies that opened in limited release this weekend, many of which have strong Oscar prospects and the likelihood of becoming nationwide hits. Leading the pack here is Kathryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty, whose controversy over its alleged endorsement of torture in the hunt for Osama bin Laden didn’t deter viewers at all; it earned an astronomical $82,000 per screen at each of five venues. It should be a smash when it opens nationwide next month. The Impossible also opened strongly, with the Naomi Watts tsunami tale taking in an estimated $9,250 per venue on 15 screens. And Michael Haneke’s Amour, the drama about an octogenarian couple that is a heavy favorite for a Foreign Language Oscar, earned an estimated $23,554 per screen at three theaters. Jury is still out on On the Road, the long-awaited Jack Kerouac adaptation featuring Kristen Stewart, and ’60s rock drama Not Fade Away, the movie-directing debut of Sopranos creator David Chase. But as with the wide releases, Christmas magic means these movies could grow long legs, too.