'New Year's Eve'

'New Year's Eve' was supposed to bring the party this weekend, but it played more like a New Year's Day hangover. It mustered an estimated $13.7 million, about half what it was expected to earn. Still, on one of the most lackluster box office weekends all year, that was enough for a victory.

'New Year's Eve' was director Garry Marshall's follow-up to his similar holiday-themed, all-star ensemble romantic comedy 'Valentine's Day,' which debuted with a huge $56 million two Februarys ago. Of course, that was on the biggest date weekend of the year; this was not (plus, it had the still-strong ''The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 1' to contend with for female ticketbuyers). No one expected it to open as big as 'Valentine's Day,' but most expected an opening around half the size, not a mere fourth the size. Besides the 'Twilight' vampires, blame scathing reviews and poor word-of-mouth.

'The Sitter'

Opening in second place, 'The Sitter' also performed below its already underwhelming expectations. Jonah Hill has never carried a comedy all by himself, and judging by the mild reception for the recent 'A Very Harold & Kumar Christmas,' this isn't a time of year with a strong market for raunchy comedies. So pundits predicted an opening of around $12 to $13 million, but Sunday estimates came in at just $10.0 million. Director David Gordon Green, who has yet to regain the highs of 'Pineapple Express,' now enjoys the dubious distinction of having released two flops this year (the other was this spring's 'Your Highness').

After three weekends atop the chart, 'Breaking Dawn' finally slipped to third place, with an estimated $7.9 million. A decline of 52 percent from a week ago isn't that unusual for a four-week-old blockbuster. The supernatural romance has earned $259.5 million in North America to date.

'The Muppets' also dropped two spots, down to fourth place with an estimated take of $7.1 million. That represents a modest decline of 32 percent in the movie's third weekend. To date, Kermit & Co. are seeing green to the tune of $65.8 million.

The only Christmas-themed movie currently playing, 'Arthur Christmas,' saw the smallest decline among wide-release movies, just 11 percent in its third weekend. At No. 5, it earned an estimated $6.6 million, for a three-week total of $33.5 million.

'Young Adult'

Also opening this week were two movies that did very well in limited release, according to studio estimates. Charlize Theron's black comedy 'Young Adult' earned an enormous $40,000 per screen on eight screens (by comparison, 'New Year's Eve drew $3,505 per screen), and its total debut of $320,000 landed it at No. 15 on the chart. One notch below was Gary Oldman's espionage thriller 'Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy,' which earned an even more astonishing $75,250 per screen at four venues, for a total of $301,000. Holding up well in limited release were 'The Artist' (up 38 percent this week with the addition of 10 screens, for a total of 16, with a per-screen average of $18,250 and an estimated weekend take of $292,000) and 'Shame' (down just 21 percent, to an estimated $276,000, or $13,143 per screen). All potential year-end awards contenders, these films should continue to do well as they expand into wider release.

Overall, the top 12 movies earned just $69.7 million this weekend, marking the third straight week of declining box office. Grosses for the year are more than 3 percent below where they were this time a year ago ($9.5 billion, compared to $9.8 billion), but that gap could widen if this month continues to see such lackluster performance.

'New Year's Eve' - Trailer No. 2

The full top 10:
1. 'New Year's Eve,' $13.7 million (3,505 screens), new release
2. 'The Sitter,' $10.0 million (2,750), new release
3. 'The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 1,' $7.9 million (3,604), $259.5 million total
4. 'The Muppets,' $7.1 million (3,328), $65.8 million
5. 'Arthur Christmas,' $6.6 million (3,272), $33.5 million
6. 'Hugo,' $6.1 million (2,608) $33.5 million
7. 'The Descendants,' $4.8 million (876), $23.6 million
8. 'Happy Feet Two,' $3.8 million (2,840), $56.9 million
9. 'Jack and Jill,' $3.2 million (2,787), $68.6 million
10. 'Immortals,' $2,4 million (2,286), $79.9 million

[Photos: Warner Bros. ('New Year's Eve'), 20th Century Fox ('The Sitter'), Paramount ('Young Adult')]



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