The box office race ran on parallel tracks this weekend, as mainstream movies sank into the usual post-Thanksgiving torpor this was the year's second lowest grossing weekend, finishing just above the Labor Day frame and indie pictures, revving up for awards season, grabbed the attention of specialty filmgoers. The respective winners: a Disney princess and a Black Swan.
The Disney animated feature Tangled, though down 56% from last Friday to Sunday, still won the weekend at North American theaters, according to early studio estimates. Its $21.5 million easily bested the $16.7 million for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1, whose take fell nearly two-thirds from last weekend. In its fourth week, the true-life runaway-train adventure Unstoppable held well, giving star Denzel Washington his eighth consecutive film in wide release (more than 2,000 theaters) to earn at least $64 million at the domestic box office. Love & Other Drugs, the sexy romance with Anne Hathaway and Jake Gyllenhaal, actually moved up a notch on the top 10 list, attracting couples who may have been home for the holidays last week. The one new film in wide release, the Korean-American martial artsWestern The Warrior's Way, earned barely $3 million in 1,622 theaters the box office equivalent of a sagebrush hero who's shot dead the moment he rides into town.
Granted, even the DOA The Warrior's Way earned more this weekend than any of the indie films. But box office revenue in early December is just a qualifying sprint for movies whose goal is a statuette or two on Feb. 27 Oscar night. Black Swan got a good jump on the competition. Darren Aronofsky's psychological thriller, which stars Natalie Portman as a young ballerina cast in the good-swan-bad-swan lead of Swan Lake, opened on Friday after September showcases at the Venice, Telluride and Toronto film festivals, and earned nearly $1.4 million on 18 screens, for a sensational $77,000-plus per-screen average. That's an excellent early payoff for three months of tub-thumping by industry insiders, who have long proclaimed Portman as a front runner for the Best Actress Academy Award. But all it means is that about 150,000 people went out of their way to see the movie this weekend. Specialty films often open with impressive per-screen averages; Black Swan will have to click with ordinary moviegoers if its gross is to match its Oscar hype.
The King's Speech, the story of King George VI's attempt to overcome a crippling stammer and lead Britain into war against Nazi Germany, has been similarly touted as a leader in the competition for Best Picture, with Colin Firth an odds-on leader for Best Actor. The film enjoyed a regal opening last week and sustained its momentum this weekend, with $326,000 on just six screens. I Love You Phillip Morris has little hope of any awards, but for a film that was shot 2½ years ago and was passed from one indie distributor to the next like a hot potato with earthworm blight, the gay rom-com starring Jim Carrey and Ewan McGregor saw a little sunshine, with a $113,000 first weekend at six venues. All Good Things, which cast critics' fave Ryan Gosling and erstwhile Spider-Man hottie Kirsten Dunst in a fictionalized version of a real murder mystery, took in a promising $40,000 at two theaters.
The other films on the top 10 indie list, which appears at the end of this report, are on the box office downalator. Inside Job and Waiting for "Superman" should fight it out for the Best Documentary Feature Academy Award, and will get a small bump if they are nominated next month. 127 Hours, the I'd-give-my-right-arm-to-stay-alive drama directed by Slumdog Millionaire's Danny Boyle, and Fair Game, with Naomi Watts and Sean Penn as Valerie Plame and Joe Wilson, are in 400-plus theaters and have nearly exhausted their commercial appeal though they will get a boost if they cadge prizes from critics or at the Golden Globes. Two English true-life tales are limping out of theaters: the John Lennon teen biopic Nowhere Boy and Made in Dagenham, designed as Oscar fodder for actress Sally Hawkins. That one is going nowhere. It's the Warrior's Way, not the Tangled, of this season's indie hopefuls.
Here are the Sunday estimates of this weekend's top-grossing pictures in North American theaters, as reported by Box Office Mojo:
1. Tangled, $21.5 million; $96.4 million, second week
2. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1, $16.7 million; $244.2 million, third week
3. Burlesque, $6.1 million; $27 million, second week
4. Unstoppable, $6.1 million; $68.9 million, fourth week
5. Love & Other Drugs, $5.7 million; $22.6 million, second week
6. Megamind, $5 million; $136.7 million, fifth week
7. Due Date, $4.2 million; $91 million, fifth week
8. Faster, $3.9 million; $18.1 million, second week
9. The Warrior's Way, $3.05 million, first weekend
10. The Next Three Days, $2.65 million; $18.4 million, third week
And here are the Sunday estimates of this weekend's top-grossing indie films, with the number of venues and per-screen averages as well as the films' production budgets (if available), again as tabulated by Box Office Mojo:
1. 127 Hours, $1.6 million, 433 screens, $3,695 per screen; $6.6 million, fifth week; $18 million budget
2. Black Swan, $1.394 million, 18 screens, $77,444 per screen, first week; $13 million budget
3. Fair Game, $1.05 million, 435 screens, $2,404 per screen; $7.4 million, fifth week; $22 million budget
4. The King's Speech, $326,000, six screens, $54,333 per screen; $809,000, second week; $15 million budget
5. Inside Job, $213,000, 127 screens, $1,677 per screen; $2.9 million, ninth week; $2 million budget
6. I Love You Phillip Morris, $113,000, six screens, $18,833 per screen, first week; $13 million budget
7. Made in Dagenham, $40,900, 11 screens, $3,718 per screen; $185,000, third week; budget N/A
8. All Good Things, $40,000, two screens, $20,000 per screen, first week; budget N/A
9. Waiting for "Superman", $36,000, 85 screens, $424 per screen; $6.3 million, 11th week; budget N/A
10. Nowhere Boy, $14,700, 23 screens, $639 per screen; $1.4 million, ninth week; budget N/A