‘Four Christmases’ adds up to No. 1 at the box office

(New Line Cinema)

Consumers opened their wallets this weekend not only for Black Friday retail sales but also for the movie industry, which recorded its second-highest Thanksgiving weekend box office ever.

Ticket sales for the five-day period totaled $236 million, spurred by the Warner Bros. movie “Four Christmases,” according to box-office tracking firm Media by Numbers. The only Thanksgiving weekend with higher receipts came in 2000 when theaters rang up $244.4 million with such movies as “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” and “Unbreakable.”

“Four Christmases,” starring Vince Vaughn and Reese Witherspoon, was the weekend’s biggest surprise. Critics were not kind, referring to the film as “acrid and wince-worthy.” But audiences didn’t seem to care as the film generated $46.7 million over five days, making it the third-biggest Thanksgiving holiday opening ever, behind 1999’s “Toy Story 2" and last year’s “Enchanted.”

“It’s perfectly titled, perfectly timed and well cast. What movies are families going to go out and see? This is one of them. It’s got a license to print money,” said Paul Dergarabedian, president of Media by Numbers.

“Four Christmases” surged past “Twilight,” dropping Summit Entertainment’s PG-13 vampire romance, starring Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson, into the No. 2 spot with $39.5 million in its second week.

Disney’s animated dog story, “Bolt,” came in strong at No. 3 with $36 million in its second week. For just the three-day weekend, it was the second-highest in ticket sales.

“I’d like to think that this is the only time of year that a dog might beat a vampire,” joked Richie Fay, president of domestic distribution for “Twilight” distributor Summit Entertainment, who added that he was pleased with “Twilight’s” performance to date.

“We’ll be close to $120 million for 10 days, and that is better than we anticipated,” Fay said.

In its thirdweek, Sony/MGM’s “Quantum of Solace,” starring Daniel Craig as James Bond, fell two notches to fourth, at $28.1 million for the five-day period.

Rory Bruer, Sony’s president of domestic distribution, said the company had high hopes for “Quantum” unseating 2006’s “Casino Royale” as the most successful Bond movie ever.

The biggest disappointment was the opening of 20th Century Fox’s “Australia,” but the company’s own marketing campaign may be partly to blame.

On the one hand, Fox wanted moviegoers to consider the movie set in pre-World War II northern Australia as a sweeping epic in the same vein as such classics as “Lawrence of Arabia,” “Gone With the Wind” and “Giant.”

On the other hand, its fifth-place opening at $20 million hardly seemed in epic proportions.

But Fox executives said Sunday that they had been anticipating an $18-million start for the movie, starring Hugh Jackman and Nicole Kidman.

They pointed out that director and co-writer Baz Luhrmann’s films, which include “Moulin Rouge” and “Romeo and Juliet,” start slow and then build momentum. Also, they noted, it was the only top five film that was playing in fewer than 3,000 theaters and its 2-hour and 35-minute run time meant fewer showings per day.

Chris Aronson, Fox’s senior vice president of distribution, said the movie would become “the adult choice among wide- release films” this holiday season.

“Virtually every genre was represented this holiday weekend. There was something for everyone,” Media by Numbers’ Dergarabedian said.

In limited releases, two films getting some Oscar buzz did well.

Director Gus Van Sant’s “Milk,” starring Sean Penn, had the best three-day release figures for any film opening in 30 to 40 theaters, said Focus Features executives. Its $1.9 million in sales put it ahead of movies such as “Atonement” and “The Shawshank Redemption.”

Jack Foley, president of theatrical distribution for Focus, said that the movie, set before the 1978 assassinations of San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk and Mayor George Moscone, was appealing to a broader audience than the company had anticipated and would be playing at 60 more theaters by the coming weekend.

Fox Searchlight’s “Slumdog Millionaire,” in its third week, pulled down $1.8 million and is doing so well that the company is releasing the movie to 600 theaters on Dec. 19 instead of the 300 it had originally planned.

The film about an impoverished Indian teen who becomes a contestant on India’s version of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?” probably gained some unwanted notice last week. It was filmed in Mumbai, which was rocked by a three-day terrorist siege in which more than 150 people died.

Sheila DeLoach, Fox Searchlight’s senior vice president of distribution, said the company spent some frantic moments last week telephoning and e-mailing everyone in Mumbai who had worked on the film.

“We were very relieved. They were all OK,” DeLoach said.

White is a Times staff writer.