Box Office Guru Wrapup: Cruise Claims #1 Spot at Christmas

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Scoring his first number one film in a lead role since his last turn as Ethan Hunt, Tom Cruise scaled to the top of the charts over a sluggish Christmas session with his latest spy sequel Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol which topped the North American box office in its first round of wide release. The top three spots were all sophomore sequels playing musical chairs from last week's rankings as the batch of new holiday releases were met with more modest turn-outs settling for slots in the middle of the top ten. Overall sales were disturbingly slow but studios are hoping that the week ahead will see heavy traffic at multiplexes thanks to the extra time off so many people will have. Monday is a national day off and should see a strong spike in activity for all films.

Christmas Eve is always a soft moviegoing day due to last-minute holiday distractions and theaters closing early so with it falling on the prime day of Saturday this year, weekend grosses took a beating for every movie. But what was alarming was that total ticket sales even dipped below grosses from 2005 when the calendar was the exact same even though ticket prices were lower back then and there were no 3D surcharges added to the mix.

Expanding nationwide after five days of exclusive play on large-format screens, Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol was the top film among moviegoers over Santa weekend grossing an estimated $26.5M over the Friday-to-Sunday period. The fourth installment in the long-running Paramount series averaged $7,696 from 3,448 theaters which was good given the hit all films took on Christmas Eve. Adding in the earlier limited run in IMAX and other large-format venues, the cume stands at a solid $59M with a red hot holiday week still to come when everyday behaves like a Saturday. Ghost Protocol will easily beat the $134M domestic final of the last film, 2006's Mission: Impossible III, and although it is too early to conclude, it also has a shot at challenging the $215.4M of 2000's MI2 to become the top-grossing installment of the series. After the disappointing results five years ago of the last flick, and all the negative publicity Cruise attracted in recent years, most thought this franchise could not make a comeback like this.

Dropping 55% in its second weekend to second place was the tentpole sequel Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows with an estimated $17.8M raising the ten-day tally to $76.6M. Even factoring out the Christmas Eve effect, it was a large decline for a pricey pic coming off of a softer-than-expected opening. All the new choices for grown-ups certainly affected the turn out and teens are not contributing significantly to the grosses. Shadows currently is running 45% behind the pace of the first Sherlock although that film had a much stronger playing period in its first ten days since it debuted on Christmas Day.

Fellow sophomore sequel Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked fared better dropping 43% from its opening frame to an estimated $13.3M ranking third for the session. The Fox release has taken in $50.3M in ten days and is running 40% behind the first Alvin from 2007 which had a very similar pre-Christmas calender. With kids now out of school and on break, the studio is expecting stellar daily grosses for the next week.

Sony's much-hyped The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo opened in fourth place with a mediocre start grossing an estimated $13M over the Friday-to-Sunday weekend and $21.4M since debuting on Tuesday night. Directed by David Fincher, the R-rated remake of the hit Swedish film averaged only $4,461 from 2,914 locations and like other films is hoping to pick up solid numbers during the holiday week ahead. The studio projected a very aggressive 133% Saturday-to-Sunday jump while other major adult-skewing films estimated 50-80% boosts. Reviews were quite good and the Daniel Craig starrer has even scored some notices during awards season, however the dark and violent subject matter coupled with intense competition for the attention of mature adults led to an underwhelming result over the happy and cheery yuletide holiday. Still, a domestic final of $100M cannot be ruled out this early in the run.

Steven Spielberg had a bumpy start to his Christmas double feature offering for North American movie fans. The animated actioner The Adventures of Tintin bowed to just $9.1M this weekend, according to estimates, with $13.9M across the five-day debut period of Wednesday-to-Sunday. The domestic total including the earlier run in Quebec which began on December 9 is $17.1M. The 3D Paramount release played in 3,087 theaters and averaged a weak $2,956 but with sensational reviews is hoping to find American audiences over time. The property is not too well-known in the United States which always posed a challenge. Tintin opened in Europe and most international territories in October and has banked a stellar $240M+ overseas already making the U.S. not too important to the overall picture. Other films generated more excitement with parents and kids have been turning up in bigger numbers for the more familiar Alvin and the Chipmunks pic even though it is in its second weekend.

Also slow out of the gate, but well-positioned to gain some ground during the holiday week ahead, was the Matt Damon drama We Bought a Zoo which opened on Friday and collected an estimated $7.8M over the weekend from 3,117 locations for a dull $2,502 average. The PG-rated film was not based on any brand that would lead to upfront excitement and Damon is not much of a box office draw outside of the action genre so Fox has been counting on positive buzz from regular moviegoers to help it sell the film. Two rounds of sneak previews weeks ago and the two days of nationwide release before Christmas Day were intended to get the feel-good film in front of ordinary people who would then spread strong word-of-mouth over the holidays allowing those recommendations to kick in from December 25 onwards. An encouraging A grade from CinemaScore indicates that the product is indeed pleasing ticket buyers so Zoo numbers will have to be watched in the days and weeks ahead. Reviews have been mixed and won't help the cause too much, but working in the film's favor is that it is the only truly American film for grown-ups among all the major films this holiday week. Other films feature some combination of foreign settings, charcters, and actors.

Holdovers with modest grosses rounded out the top ten. The Warner Bros. comedy New Year's Eve tumbled 59% to an estimated $3M giving the ensemble pic a disappointing $32.3M to date. With its namesake holiday having arrived, the 3D toon Arthur Christmas dipped only 24% to an estimated $2.7M for a lackluster $44.2M cume to date. Audiences are notorious for losing interest in Santa-themed films from December 26 onwards. Disney's The Muppets followed with an estimated $2M, down 43%, for a $75.6M sum. Off 43% was another PG-rated Thanksgiving leftover, Martin Scorsese's acclaimed 3D drama Hugo, which also collected an estimated $2M giving Paramount a not-too-impressive $43.7M to date.

The top ten films grossed an estimated $97.3M which was down 22% from last year when Little Fockers opened in the top spot with $30.8M; and down a steep 62% from 2009's record frame when Avatar stayed at number one with $75.6M.

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