Muppets and vampires are enjoying a bountiful Thanksgiving weekend, while Christmas elves and little boys in train stations are feeding on a more meager meal.
"The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn — Part 1" is easily topping the holiday weekend box office in the U.S. and Canada, followed closely by "The Muppets," the strongest-performing new film to open Wednesday. The animated "Arthur Christmas" and Martin Scorsese's 3-D "Hugo" are lagging far behind.
"Breaking Dawn," the fourth of Summit Entertainment's planned five movies based on author Stephenie Meyer's bestselling books, sold $20.3 million worth of tickets Wednesday and Thursday and is on track to collect roughly $56 million by Sunday. The film has earned an impressive $179.3 million in its first full week in release.
That continues the teen vampire series' dominant run at the domestic box office, but it is also a slight underperformance. The second film in the record-busting series, 2009's "The Twilight Saga: New Moon," which also opened the Friday before Thanksgiving, had grossed nearly $10 million more than the new movie at the same point in time. As the film series ages, it appears that Bella, Edward and Jacob may be losing a few fans.
Walt Disney Studios' "The Muppets," meanwhile, is turning in a healthy opening, especially given its modest production budget of about $45 million. The film, which stars Jason Segel, of TV's "How I Met Your Mother," and Amy Adams, from "Enchanted" and "The Fighter," grossed $12.5 million its first two days in theaters and should get to about $40 million by Sunday.
Combined with its average audience grade of A, according to market research firm CinemaScore, "The Muppets" seems to be fulfilling Disney's goal of reestablishing a family audience for creator Jim Henson's puppet brand. Several 1990s entries, including "Muppets From Space" and "Muppet Treasure Island," fared poorly at the box office.
The weekend's biggest disappointment so far is "Arthur Christmas." The Sony Pictures animated film, made in collaboration with Britain's Aardman Animations, took in only $4.3 million its first two days in theaters. The well-reviewed film, which cost about $100 million to produce, is expected to gross about $15 million by Sunday.
That marks a poor start for Sony's partnership with Aardman, which kicks off with this movie. The British animation company's last U.S. release, 2006's "Flushed Away," produced with DreamWorks Animation, opened to $18.8 million on a three-day weekend. Its financial performance was so bad that DreamWorks took a write-down of $109 million on the movie and ended its deal with Aardman.
Aardman's next movie with Sony, the stop-motion "The Pirates! A Band of Misfits," opens in March 2012.
"Hugo," director Scorsese's adaptation of the children's book about a boy building a mechanical friend inside a Parisian train station, has generated about $4 million since Wednesday and is likely to sell $15 million worth of tickets by the end of the weekend. That's the same as "Arthur Christmas" but more impressive because "Hugo" is playing at about 2,000 fewer theaters than its animated rival.
Given the crowded state of the weekend box office and the fact that pre-release surveys indicated that audience interest was low, distributor Paramount Pictures opened "Hugo" at only 1,277 theaters, meaning that some people outside large cities may not have been able to find the movie nearby. The studio is hoping that good audience buzz and nearly unanimous positive reviews will boost the ultimate box-office take as "Hugo" expands to more locations in December.
The obstacles are significant, however. Financier GK Films spent a hefty sum to make "Hugo" — close to $150 million according to the company, but around $170 million according to a person close to the picture. That means the film ultimately will have to perform significantly better than any of this weekend's other movies to become a success at the domestic box office.