Recession be damned, Hollywood is on its way to what could be its merriest holiday season ever, thanks to a group of undead teenagers.
"The Twilight Saga: New Moon" posted the third-largest opening in domestic box-office history, not accounting for ticket price inflation, having sold an estimated $140.7 million worth of tickets in the U.S. and Canada from Friday through Sunday. Only Warner Bros.' "The Dark Knight" and Sony's "Spider-Man 3" had bigger openings.
Summit Entertainment's "New Moon" smashed the previous record for a movie opening outside the summer event movie season and more than doubled the launch of the first "Twilight" movie last year.
Though the audience for the new movie was slightly older and included more men than its predecessor, crowds were still overwhelmingly female. The success of the "Twilight" DVD, released in March and the No. 1 seller this year, probably helped increase interest among adults and males and persuade more young women to see the sequel on the big screen.
The good news for the vampire series wasn't bad news for everyone else.
Several other pictures, including "The Blind Side" and "Precious," had strong weekends, driving overall domestic box-office receipts to their second-highest total ever on a non-holiday weekend.
For an industry reeling from major executive shifts at three of the six major studios this year, declining DVD sales, piracy and other challenges to traditional business models, this weekend provided a sign of strength going into the holiday season, which is second only to summer as Hollywood's biggest time of the year.
Despite tectonic changes in the entertainment business, it seems, the oldest form of watching movies remains vibrant.
"It's a really good sign for the industry," said Dan Fellman, president of domestic distribution for "Blind Side" distributor Warner Bros. "It just goes to show you good movies can expand the marketplace and we still have strong potential."
For Summit, which at less than 3 years old has very few hits under its belt, "New Moon" is a massive financial success. The movie grossed an additional $118.1 million in 25 foreign countries, giving it a worldwide launch total of $258.8 million. Studios typically keep about half of their films' domestic box-office receipts and 40% from overseas.
"New Moon" cost just under $50 million to produce, making it the least expensive movie ever to open to more than $200 million worldwide. Even including Summit's marketing costs, it is likely to start generating profit from box-office revenue alone, before hitting DVD, pay cable and the other post-theatrical markets where most successful films go into the black.
When "New Moon" broke the record for the biggest opening day in history on Friday, some in the industry thought fans of the first "Twilight" had simply shifted up attendance to the first day with the help of online ticketing.
But "New Moon's" 41% drop on Saturday was the same as its predecessor's, an indication that the vampire series' audience expanded significantly and that "New Moon's" box-office declines in the coming weeks will be similar to "Twilight's."
"We certainly thought it might be a bigger drop [than "Twilight"] on Saturday given that Friday was so much bigger," said Richie Fay, president of domestic distribution for Summit. "The exit interviews we are gathering are so good that I think the multiple will be about the same."
If it does enjoy the same multiple -- a comparison of final gross to opening -- as "Twilight," "New Moon" could end up grossing nearly $400 million domestically. ("Twilight's" domestic gross was $192.8 million.)
The sequel could easily match its domestic numbers internationally, based on initial stellar results in places such as Australia, France, Italy and Britain.
Still, "New Moon" will probably make the vast majority of its money in the next two weeks, leaving plenty of room in the market. That's good news for several other movies that found their audiences this weekend in the wake of the vampire film.
"The Blind Side," financed by Alcon Entertainment, generated the biggest opening ever for a Sandra Bullock movie, with $34.5 million.
It garnered an average audience grade of A-plus, according to market research firm CinemaScore; the only other film to do so this year was Pixar's "Up."
Word-of-mouth could drive "The Blind Side" to more than $150 million if, as Fellman predicted, it keeps playing well through Christmas.
Lionsgate's Sundance Film Festival purchase "Precious" continues to play extremely well, collecting $11 million as it expanded to 629 theaters in most major cities.
Numerous other pictures with big expectations are rolling out in the coming weeks, hoping this weekend's box-office momentum will continue. On Wednesday, Disney's "Old Dogs," Warner Bros.' "Ninja Assassin" and Fox's "The Fantastic Mr. Fox," which has performed well in four theaters for the last two weeks, will enter the fray.
December will see several highly anticipated movies, including Disney's animated "The Princess and the Frog," Paramount's "The Lovely Bones," Warner Bros.' "Sherlock Holmes" and Fox's "Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel" and $300-million-plus event film "Avatar."
Although "New Moon" easily vanquished last weekend's No. 1 picture, "2012," domestically, Sony's $200-million disaster film held on much stronger overseas, grossing $100.5 million in its second weekend and bringing its worldwide total to $449.8 million.
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Estimated sales in the U.S. and Canada:
*--* Movie 3-day gross Percentage Total Days in release change from (studio) (millions) last weekend (millions) 1 The Twilight $140.7 NA $140.7 3 Saga: New Moon (Summit) 2 The Blind Side $34.5 NA $34.5 3 (Warner Bros./Alcon) 3 2012 $26.5 -59% $108.2 10 (Sony) 4 Planet 51 $12.6 NA $12.6 3 (Sony/Ilion) 5 A Christmas $12.2 -45% $79.8 17 Carol (Disney) 6 Precious $11 +87% $21.4 17 (Lionsgate) 7 The Men Who $2.8 -53% $27.6 17 Stare at Goats (Overture/BBC/ Winchester Capital) 8 Couples Retreat $2 -53% $105 45 (Universal/Rela tivity) 9 The Fourth Kind $1.7 -62% $23.3 17 (Universal/Gold Circle) 10 Law Abiding $1.6 -57% $70 38 Citizen (Overture/Film Department) *--*
*--* 3-day gross Change Year-to-date gross Change (in millions) from 2008 (in billions) from 2008 $260 +58% $9.2 +8% *--*
*--* Sources: Times research and Hollywood.com Box Office Los Angeles Times *--*