Don't underestimate vampires and werewolves when they go up against various frogs, pigs, and bears. That's this weekend's box office lesson. With no new wide-release movies in theaters, the box office competition was supposed to be a closely fought battle between holdovers ''The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 1' and ''The Muppets,' but it didn't end up close at all. 'Breaking Dawn' easily defended its crown for a third straight week at the top, while 'The Muppets' plummeted faster than expected to a distant second place.
After last weekend's repeat victory, 'Breaking Dawn' was expected to follow the path of past years' Thanksgiving blockbusters (including previous 'Twilight' installment 'New Moon' two years ago) and drop about 65 percent this weekend, which would have put it around $14.5 million. But it slipped just 59 percent, for an estimated weekend take of $16.9 million. In 17 days, the supernatural romance sequel has earned $247.3 million in North America and even more overseas, for a worldwide total of $532.3 million.
For 'The Muppets,' a 50 percent drop from last weekend's debut would have meant about $14.5 million and a neck-and-neck battle with the 'Twilight' neck-biters. Some pundits were even predicting a Muppet victory this weekend, given the film's enthusiastic reviews and word-of-mouth. Yet the movie fell a full 62 percent, to an estimated $11.2 million, nearly $6 million below 'Breaking Dawn.' Why the steeper than expected drop? It could be that more kids than expected went to see 'Hugo,' which expanded its release by about 50 percent this weekend, or to 'Arthur Christmas,' which is the only seasonal-themed holiday film currently in wide release. Still, 'Muppets' remained the top choice for family viewing, and its take so far comes to $56.5 million over 12 days.
'Hugo's second-week decline was a modest 33 percent, since it added 563 more screens, for a total of 1,840. Its estimated take of $7.6 million was good for a third-place finish. It had a per-screen average of $4,144, the largest of any of the current family films. ('The Muppets' earned $3,256 per venue.) That suggests strong word-of-mouth, which, along with rapturous reviews, should keep the Martin Scorsese 3D adventure afloat through the rest of the holidays. In 12 days, 'Hugo' has earned $25.2 million.
'Arthur Christmas' also held up well, sliding just 39 percent to an estimated $7.4 million. That landed the cartoon in fourth place, though its take is close enough to 'Hugo's that they may find their ranks reversed when final numbers are released on Monday. Its two-week total is slightly ahead of 'Hugo' at $25.3 million.
'Happy Feet Two' has the most tepid reviews and word-of-mouth among current family releases, but it held on to a spot in the top 5 with a take estimated at $6.0 million. That's down 55 percent from last week, not unusual for a cartoon in its third week of release, especially given the heavy competition in the family marketplace. In three weeks, the penguin pic has danced off with $51.8 million.
Elsewhere on the chart, 'The Descendants,' like fellow awards-season hopeful 'Hugo,' expanded its run by about 50 percent (to 574 screens) and was rewarded with a box office boost. It rose from 10th place to 7th and earned another estimated $5.2 million, for a three-week total of $18.1 million. And the much-buzzed-about 'Shame' opened on 10 screens and did very well, earning $36,100 per screen for a total of $361,000, good for a 16th-place debut. That per-screen average suggests stronger-than-usual commercial appeal for this NC-17 movie; if this weekend's numbers can persuade enough additional theater owners to book the film, it has a good chance of breaking the $5 million ceiling that no NC-17-rated film has cracked since 2004. Awards interest for Michael Fassbender and Carey Mulligan's performances in the sex-addiction drama won't hurt.
As the year winds down, box office is still about 3.2 percent behind where it was at this point in 2010. This year's estimated grosses to date are $9.4 billion, compared to $9.7 billion a year ago.
The full top 10:
1. 'The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 1,' $16.9 million (4,046 screens), $247.3 million total
2. 'The Muppets,' $11.2 million (3,440), $56.1 million
3. 'Hugo,' $7.6 million (1,840) $25.2 million
4. 'Arthur Christmas,' $7.4 million (3,376), $25.3million
5. 'Happy Feet Two,' $6.0 million (3,536), $51.8 million
6. 'Jack and Jill,' $5.5 million (3,049), $64.3 million
7. 'The Descendants,' $5.2 million (574), $18.1 million
8. 'Immortals,' $4,4 million (2,627), $75.6 million
9. 'Tower Heist,' $4.1 million (2.404), $70.8 million
10. 'Puss in Boots,' $3.1 million (2,750), $139.5 million
[Photos: Summit ('Breaking Dawn'), Disney ('The Muppets'), Fox Searchlight ('Shame')]
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