Everybody went to the movies last weekend; hardly anyone showed up this weekend. The total box-office take was cut in half from its blockbuster Thanksgiving, and the No. 1 picture had the lowest gross of any winner since Labor Day weekend. But those rooting for an underdog had plenty to cheer about. The Blind Side the true-life sports movie about a determined white woman and her adopted black son finally overtook the vampires and werewolves of The Twilight Saga: New Moon at the North American wickets, according to studio estimates. And none of the three debut films in wide release could earn even half of what The Blind Side did. The only movie to spark hopes of box-office gelt and Oscar gold, Up in the Air, opened in limited release.
Every year for the past two decades, the movie that was No. 1 Thanksgiving weekend also won the following weekend. This time, the picture that finished second in the previous two frames rose to the top by not falling too far. The Sandra Bullock vehicle dropped 49% from last weekend, to $20.4 million, while New Moon fell 70%, to $15.7 million. All the other holdovers among the top dozen films A Christmas Carol, Old Dogs, 2012, Ninja Assassin, Planet 51, Fantastic Mr. Fox and Precious took a steep tumble, from 52% for A Christmas Carol to 67% for Precious.
News of the sagging revenues did not come as a shock, during what is traditionally one of the slowest weeks on Hollywood's calendar. All new movies are subject to the law of gravity, even a smash like New Moon. In 17 days, the interspecies love story sold more than 35 million tickets in North America alone, and it was bound to exhaust its fan base at some point. Meanwhile, The Blind Side's constituency, skewing older than New Moon's teen-vixen pack, took its time catching up with the movie's eloquent word of mouth. But no one need feel sorry for New Moon. Its domestic gross, $255.6 million, is nearly double that of The Blind Side's $129.3 million. And with a modest budget of $50 million, a worldwide cumulative gross of $570 million and two or three more Twilight movies in the offing, the franchise has a lot of bite left in it.
Brothers was the weekend's prestige item: a family drama starring Spider-Man (Tobey Maguire), a Star Wars princess (Natalie Portman) and the surviving dude from Brokeback Mountain (Jake Gyllenhaal). Big stars when they're in big movies, the trio will have a tougher time selling this honorable tale of war and woe; Brothers finished third with $9.7 million. Three slots further down, the heist film Armored swiped $6.6 million, or less than a sixth of the amount the guys in the movie are stealing. That's pretty feeble for the week's only new action film, whose low-wattage cast Matt Dillon, Laurence Fishburne, Jean Reno assured that Armored would land in the "DVD, if at all" section of moviegoers' priorities. Barely making the top 10, with a $4 million take, was the Robert De Niro drama Everybody's Fine, a kind of weepie-genre Four Christmases, in which a father pays separate surprise visits to his quartet of grown children. When this movie called on its potential audience, nobody answered.
Playing on a mere 15 screens, Up in the Air soared to a stratospheric $1.2 million. The Jason Reitman comedy-drama, starring George Clooney as a charming, rootless management consultant who flies around the country firing people, was deemed a front runner for the Best Picture Oscar after its premieres at the Telluride and Toronto film festivals. The National Board of Review, the first big group to announce its year-end awards, showered Up in the Air with four major laurels: best film, actor (Clooney), supporting actress (Anna Kendrick) and adapted screenplay. The picture, which comes to your neighborhood on Christmas Day, nudged two other Clooney movies, Fantastic Mr. Fox and The Men Who Stare at Goats, out of the top 10.
For the second weekend, Disney's animated feature The Princess and the Frog earned a gigantic gross $744,000 with four shows per day at just two sites: the Ziegfeld in Manhattan and a theater on the Disney lot in Burbank. Why did it do so well? Because the ticket price is a whopping $50, with the perk of a trip to a nearby venue (Roseland in New York), where the wee ones can have their pictures taken with all nine Disney cartoon princesses and get a lesson in drawing one of the film's characters from a Disney animator. Many of the shows were sold out, proving that the Mouse House hasn't run out of ways to squeeze big bucks out of kids and their parents.
Next weekend The Princess and the Frog opens wide, in the august company of Clint Eastwood's Invictus, Peter Jackson's The Lovely Bones and the pre-acclaimed indie drama A Single Man. If there's not a new No. 1 title then if The Blind Side and New Moon don't finally make way for the new kids at the box office it will be time for Hollywood to unsheathe its harakiri swords.
Here are the weekend's top-grossing pictures in North American theaters, as reported by Box Office Mojo:
1. The Blind Side, $20.4 million; $129.3 million, third week
2. The Twilight Saga: New Moon, $15.7 million; $255.6 million, third week
3. Brothers, $9.7 million, first weekend
4. A Christmas Carol, $7.5 million; $115 million, fifth week
5. Old Dogs, $6.9 million; $33.9 million, second week
6. & 7. (tie) Armored, $6.6 million, first weekend. 2012, $6.6 million; $148 million, fourth week
8. Ninja Assassin, $5 million; $28 million, second week
9. Planet 51, $4.3 million; $34 million, third week
10. Everybody's Fine, $4 million, first week