Although "Thor" hung on to the No. 1 spot at the box office this weekend, the big story was a stellar opening for "The Best Man Holiday," which trounced all expectations to debut with a studio-estimated $30.6-million.
Disney's 3-D sequel "Thor: the Dark World" took in a solid $38.5-million, which represented an expected 55% drop from its opening weekend when it grossed $86 million.
The film cost Marvel Entertainment $170 million to produce and after two weekends has already taken in a strong $147 million. It's currently on track to eclipse the performance of its predecessor, which grossed $181 million domestically.
"The Best Man Holiday" received a coveted average grade of A+ from moviegoers, according to market research firm CinemaScore. That means it joins an elite club of films that have enjoyed long and fruitful box office runs, including "Argo," "42," "The Help," "The King's Speech," "The Blind Side" and "Titanic."
Going into the weekend, the distributor of "The Best Man Holiday," Universal Pictures, projected that the film would take in a modest $17 million, while prerelease audience surveys indicated the film would start off with around $23 million.
"There's no crystal ball in guessing this stuff," said Nikki Rocco, Universal's president of distribution. "It was fair to think this film— where 87% of the audience was African American—would open in the high teens."
That it nearly doubled that estimate is "a phenomenal result," said Rocco. "I would never have thought in my most non-lucid moment to expect this -- the picture only cost $17-million."
Thanks to the A+ CinemaScore, Rocco says she believes the film will eventually reach a broader audience.
"The Best Man Holiday," which is about a group of friends gathering for Christmas, is a sequel to 1999's "The Best Man," which grossed $34 million. Both films were directed by Malcolm D. Lee and star a number of the same actors, including Taye Diggs, Terrence Howard and Nia Long.
Meanwhile, Paramount Vantage's buzzy limited-release opening "Nebraska," which was directed by Alexander Payne and stars Bruce Dern as a sour old man on a road trip with his son, is off to an auspicious start, taking in $140,000 in four locations.
That's $35,000 per location, making it the 10th best per-theater average for a film playing in limited release, behind art-house hits like "Blue Jasmine" and "12 Years a Slave."
Next weekend will see a significant shake-up as the highly anticipated "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire" blazes into theaters.
The film opened on 962 screens in Brazil on Friday and pulled in an estimated $6.3 million, according to its distributor, Lionsgate. That's double what the first "Hunger Games" grossed in it's opening weekend in Brazil and sounds a warning bell that next weekend could be huge for the franchise.