Okay, we all knew that 'The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 1' was going to be huge; the only real suspense was: would it be record-breaking huge? (Early answer: Apparently not.) The bigger shockers were the failure of 'Happy Feet Two' to open anywhere near the heights of its smash predecessor, and the stunning success (for a glum indie Oscar hopeful playing on a handful of screens) of George Clooney's 'The Descendants.'
'Breaking Dawn' did break the franchise's own record for its opening midnight screening, which earned $30.25 million in the wee hours of Friday morning (edging out the $30 million benchmark set by 'Eclipse'). And its total take Friday of $72 million was the third largest single-day gross ever, behind the franchise's own 'New Moon' ($72.7 million) and 'Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 ($91 million).
Still, numbers like that should have resulted in a weekend total of about $148 million. Instead, distributor Summit is estimating an opening at $139.5 million. That's short of the $142.8 million franchise record set two installments ago by 'New Moon.' It's possible that word-of-mouth on this one isn't as strong as expected. (At this writing, Moviefone's own informal survey finds 'Breaking Dawn' viewers either exuberantly enthusiastic or bitterly disappointed, with raves outnumbering pans about 2-to-1.) It's also possible that some parents and kids took the PG-13 rating seriously and stayed away, given that this installment is much more frank, disturbing, and gory than the first three movies when it comes to topics of sex, pregnancy, and childbirth.
Now, $139.5 million is hardly a disappointment, especially when added to overseas grosses for a worldwide debut totaling $283.5 million. Nonetheless, with several big holiday movies opening in the next couple of weeks, 'Breaking Dawn' isn't positioned as well as it could be for the sharp dropoff likely to come over the Thanksgiving holiday.
By the way, Taylor Lautner's thriller 'Abduction' has earned an estimated $27.6 million to date, grossing about as much over nine weeks as 'Breaking Dawn' did by the time Lautner first took his shirt off during Friday's first screening.
No one expected the dancing penguins of 'Happy Feet Two' to be any kind of competition for first place, but many pundits did expect it to compete favorably with the original, which debuted at $41.5 million five years ago. After all, this one had much of the same cast, similarly striking Antarctic visuals, and 3D surcharges going for it. On the minus side, five years is a long time between sequels for a family movie; many kids who adored the flightless fowl back then have graduated to the relatively chaste vampires and werewolves of 'Twilight.' Also, the penguin craze has cooled since 'March of the Penguins' and 'Happy Feet' ruled the box office. Reviews weren't as strong this time out. Finally, the sequel faced stiff competition not just from 'Breaking Dawn,' but also from fellow family toon 'Puss in Boots,' still holding its own after four weeks in theaters. As a result, 'Happy Feet Two' had to settle for a second-place debut estimated at $22.0 million, about half the opening take that the original enjoyed.
Last week's winner, 'Immortals,' faced a steep drop, as action epics tend to do on their second weekends. It lost 62 percent of last week's business and took third place with an estimated $12.3 million. (You wouldn't think the macho 'Immortals' and the estrogen-heavy 'Breaking Dawn' would be competing for the same audience, but the guys who dragged their dates to see the gruesome Greek epic last week probably returned the favor this week for the similarly bloody birth of Bella's baby.) In 10 days, 'Immortals' has grossed $53.0 million.
Adam Sandler movies also typically lose half their business the second week; so it was with 'Jack and Jill,' which declined 52 percent dropped to fourth place on estimated earnings of $12.0 million. In two weeks, the comedy has taken in $41.0 million.
In its fourth week, 'Puss in Boots' came in fifth with an estimated $10.7 million, down 57 percent from last weekend. In four weeks, the 'Shrek' spinoff has earned $122.3 million.
Clooney's 'The Descendants' managed to crack the top 10 even though it's a heavy-themed grown-up movie playing on just 29 screens. It earned an estimated $1.2 million over the weekend, which means an enormous $42,150 per venue. Add that to its earnings since its solid early opening on Wednesday, and you have a total take of $1.3 million.
The full top 10:
1. 'The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 1,' $139.5 million (4,061 screens), new release
2. 'Happy Feet Two,' $22.0 million (3,606), new release
3. 'Immortals,' $12.3 million (3,120), $53.0 million total
4. 'Jack and Jill,' $12.0 million (3,438), $41.0 million
5. 'Puss in Boots,' $10.7 million (3,415), $122.3 million
6. 'Tower Heist,' $7.0 million (2.942), $53.4 million
7. 'J. Edgar,' $5.9 million (1,947), $20.7 million
8. 'A Very Harold & Kumar Christmas,' $2.9 million (1,808), $28.3 million
9. 'In Time,' $1.7 million (1,367), $33.4 million
10. 'The Descendants,' $1.2 million (29), $1.3 million
[Photos: Summit, Warner Bros., Fox Searchlight]
Follow Moviefone on Twitter
Like Moviefone on Facebook
Follow Gary Susman on Twitter: @garysusman