Comedy nabs holiday weekend top spot

What economic crisis?

The domestic box office flourished over the long Thanksgiving sesh, ending slightly ahead of last year. Better yet, all sorts of films did well, further indication that going to the movies is becoming more and more appealing as worried consumers cut back on more expensive forms of entertainment, including eating out.

Biggest victor in terms of sheer grosses went to Warner Bros/New Line’s Vince Vaughn-Reese Witherspoon comedy “Four Christmases.” Pic — opening Wednesday and coming in far ahead of expectations — grossed an estimated $46.7 million from 3,310 runs for the five-day frame, and $31.7 million for the three-day weekend, according to Rentrak.

The most anticipated Thanksgiving film was 20th Century Fox’s adult-leaning epic “Australia,” from director Baz Luhrmann, which also debuted Wednesday. Film grossed an estimated $20 million from 2,642 runs for the five days, and $14.8 million for the three-day weekend, to place squarely No. 5.

After a soft Wednesday debut, “Australia” noticeably picked up the pace as adults were sprung from holiday duties. Film logged a 96% bump Friday — considered the biggest single moviegoing day of the year — the largest uptick among non-family titles.

Adults also turned out in droves for specialty pic “Milk,” from Gus Van Sant and toplining Sean Penn.

Lionsgate’s male-targeted actioner “Transporter 3,” the third new wide release of the holiday, grossed a solid $18.5 million from 2,626 for the five days, and $12.3 million for the weekend, putting it at No. 7.

Holdovers more than prospered. Summit Entertainment’s “Twilight” and Disney’s 3-D toon “Bolt” came in No. 2 and No. 3, respectively, for the five days.

“Twilight” easily jumped the $100 million mark in its second frame. Pic grossed an estimated $39.5 million from 3,425 for the five-day sesh, and $26.4 million for the three days, bringing the film’s cume to $119.7 million in its 10th day in release. Still, teen vampire romance declined a steep 62% from the previous weekend.

Disney’s “Bolt,” playing in 3,654 runs, pulled off a stunning coup in showing a 1% increase over the previous weekend. Family film grossed an estimated $36 million for five days, and $26.6 million for the weekend, for a cume of $66.8 million in its 10th day. DreamWorks Animation/Paramount’s “Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa” also generated strong biz. In its fourth sesh, toon grossed an estimated $19.6 million for the five days, and $14.5 million for the weekend, for a hefty cume of $159.1 million.

Family fare always does well over Thanksgiving and Christmas — as does holiday comedy, as evidenced by the success of “Christmases,” despite withering notices.

Warner Bros. prexy of domestic distribution said the laffer drew strong numbers everywhere.

“The picture is playing right across the board. There is no weak spot. It’s playing in big cities, and in small towns,” Fellman said.

Audience for “Christmases” skewed slightly female, or 60%. A full 57% were over the age of 25, indicating that the comedy was a favorite for families.

Heading into the weekend, many thought “Australia” would play primarily to women over 25, yet females ended up repping only 52% of the film. In terms of age, 65% of the aud were over the age of 25.

“Australia” was a gamble. Film is more complex than standard studio fare. Insiders say “Australia’s” production budget was $130 million, which studio says was offset by more than $50 million in Australian tax rebates and incentives.

” ‘Australia’ is a bold, unconventional film. It’s haute cuisine, versus fast food,” said Fox senior VP of distribution Chris Aronson.

Film, which runs two hours and 45 minutes, marks Luhrmann’s best opening gross in North America, although most of his films have opened in limited runs. “Moulin Rouge” grossed $13.7 million on its first wide weekend, on its way to cuming $57.4 million. (In Oz, “Australia” debuted at No. 1 over the weekend with a strong $5 million.)

Fox is confident “Australia” will at least match the domestic gross of “Moulin Rouge,” based on good word-of-mouth. On Saturday, when the overall box office dipped 6% over Friday, the Fox film declined only 1%.

Competitors, however, said the coming weekend will be telling in terms of “Australia’s” stamina.

For Disney, “Bolt” played more like a new release over Thanksgiving, rather than a holdover. Last weekend, “Bolt” lost most of the spotlight to the boffo debut of “Twilight.”

“It did everything we said it would do over Thanksgiving,” said Disney distribution prexy Chuck Viane.

Summit prexy of distribution Richie Fay said his company expected a significant drop in the film’s second weekend after debuting to $69.6 million over the Nov. 21-23 frame.

“When you open to the large number that we did, you take your props,” Fay said.

Lionsgate prexy of domestic distribution Steve Rothenberg said the bow of Jason Statham topliner “Transporter 3″ met the studio’s expectations.

First “Transporter” debuted to $9.1 million; “Transporter 2″ to $16 million. Predictably, film played heavily male.

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