Big crowds for "Happy Feet," "Casino Royale" and the new Denzel Washington thriller "Deja Vu" propelled Hollywood to a solid holiday weekend, helping the industry maintain its box-office upswing from 2005.
Last year, Hollywood was bemoaning a 5% drop in revenue and the third straight annual decline in attendance. Analysts and industry executives fretted about competition from DVDs, video games and other new choices in entertainment.
But this year, studios are well on their way to pumping out a record number of movies. The array of titles is one reason attendance and grosses are running ahead of a year ago as the industry enters the year-end stretch.
"The breadth of offerings is impressive," said Chuck Viane, Walt Disney Co.'s president of distribution. "I think the holiday season is going to surprise people."
This weekend, the animated penguin musical "Happy Feet" danced away with the top spot again for a second week.
And thanks to a range of hits, industrywide ticket sales were off only a smidgen from the same weekend a year ago, when the blockbuster "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire" fueled a huge box-office turnout.
Year to date, box-office revenue is up 5.5% and attendance has climbed 3.9%.
By the end of the year, 154 films will have gotten wide openings at 1,000 or more theaters, according to Exhibitor Relations Co. That would be the most major releases ever -- and a 17% jump from 2005.
Warner Bros.' "Happy Feet" grossed an estimated $37.9 million over the weekend and $51.6 million over the five-day Thanksgiving period from Wednesday through Sunday. It became the 15th movie this year to top $100 million at the U.S. and Canadian box office.
Sony Pictures' "Casino Royale" finished a close second, just as it did a week earlier, grossing $31 million in its second weekend (and $45.1 million in five days). The James Bond adventure starring Daniel Craig as the new Agent 007 will soon become the 16th movie to top $100 million in domestic grosses, compared with 19 during all of 2005.
"Casino Royale" has generated $215 million worldwide after opening at No. 1 in all of the 50 territories where it has launched outside North America. It is on track to become the biggest hit in the spy franchise's history, topping the $432-million gross of 2002's "Die Another Day."
Disney's "Deja Vu" looks like another hit for Washington, producer Jerry Bruckheimer ("Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest") and director Tony Scott, who worked with Washington on "Man on Fire" and "Crimson Tide."
The science fiction thriller met targets with an estimated $20.8 million over the weekend (and $29 million in five days), becoming Washington's seventh movie since 2000 to open at more than $20 million. Like most of the weekend's new films, it opened on Wednesday instead of the usual Friday to take advantage of Thanksgiving.
"Denzel is the most consistent deliverer of grosses in the movies right now," Viane said.
The competition at multiplexes was intense as four films opened wide and two expanded nationally.
Twentieth Century Fox's Christmas comedy "Deck the Halls," starring Matthew Broderick and Danny DeVito, opened at $12 million (and $16.9 million in five days), in the lower range of analysts' expectations.
Two other new releases drew little business.
Warner Bros.' "The Fountain," a science fiction adventure starring Hugh Jackman, finished 10th. It apparently edged out New Line Cinema's "Tenacious D in the Pick of Destiny," a hard rock comedy starring Jack Black.
Weekend estimates include Sunday projections; final figures will be released today.
MGM and Weinstein Co.'s "Bobby," an ensemble drama set against the backdrop of the Robert F. Kennedy assassination, grossed $4.9 million in its second weekend (and $6.1 million in five days) after widening to 1,667 theaters.
Weinstein co-founder Harvey Weinstein said the film expanded nationally Thursday in deference to the anniversary of John F. Kennedy's assassination.
"It seems our key and core audience didn't find the film until Saturday, when we had the strongest hold of any major movie," Weinstein said. Business for the film rose slightly from Friday to Saturday, whereas most movies saw decreases.
Even so, MGM distribution chief Clark Woods said he was "a little disappointed" by the launch. He said he hoped that word of mouth would help the film, which drew a largely adult audience, develop a following.
Director and co-writer Christopher Guest's Oscar campaign spoof "For Your Consideration" grossed $2 million (and $2.7 million in five days) after widening to 623 locations in its second weekend. Warner Independent Pictures' distribution head Steven Friedlander said the quirky comedy was faring about as expected.
Among notable holdovers, Fox's politically incorrect satire "Borat" surpassed the $100-million mark in its fourth weekend.
Disney's "The Santa Clause 3" got a boost as more moviegoers turned their attention to Christmas season. The comedy starring Tim Allen grossed $10 million, a 21% increase from the previous weekend, and $13.8 million in five days.
Overall, ticket sales were estimated at $163 million, according to Exhibitor Relations Co., compared with $165.2 million in 2005. Year-to-date revenue stands at $8.4 billion, versus $8 billion at the same point in 2005.
Next weekend's new releases include the biblical drama "The Nativity Story," which New Line is launching at the start of Advent, and two movies aimed at young audiences: the thriller "Turistas" from the fledgling Fox Atomic label and MGM and Bauer Martinez's comedy "Van Wilder 2: The Rise of Taj."
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Preliminary results (in millions) in the U.S. and Canada, based on studio projections
*--* Movie 3-day gross Total Happy Feet $37.9 $100.1
Casino Royale 31.0 94.2
Deja Vu 20.8 29.0
Deck the Halls 12.0 16.9
Borat 10.4 109.3
The Santa Clause 3 10.0 67.2
Stranger Than Fiction 6.0 32.8
Flushed Away 5.8 57.4
Bobby 4.9 6.2
The Fountain 3.7 5.4
*--* 3-day gross Change (in millions) from 2005 $163.0 -1.3%
Year-to-date gross Change (in billions) from 2005 $8.44 +5.5%
*--* Source: Exhibitor Relations Co. Los Angeles Times