'Blind Side' makes strong play for weekend

Summit Entertainment’s “New Moon” continued to shine brightly as the winner of the Thanksgiving B.O. race, but Warner Bros.’ sports drama “The Blind Side” is also orbiting near the top of the chart.

“New Moon” grossed an estimated $66 million from 4,042 theaters for the five-day holiday stretch (Wednesday-Sunday), $42.5 million of which came over the weekend. Female-fueled pic declined a steep 70% in its second sesh, but that wasn’t a surprise considering its limited appeal to males.

No one is questioning the sequel’s success: “New Moon’s” domestic haul through Sunday was a staggering $230.7 million, well ahead of the $192 million cumed by “Twilight” in its entire domestic run. “New Moon” also won the weekend overseas, grossing $85.1 million for a worldwide total of $473.7 million in its first 10 days.

Yet “Blind Side” nearly tackled “New Moon” at the domestic B.O. with $40.1 million for the weekend from 3,140 theaters. Holiday five-day total was $57.5 million for a cume of $100.3 million.

Toplining Sandra Bullock and Quinton Aaron, “Blind Side” saw a surprising 18% jump from the previous weekend. That sort of second-week gain is usually seen only over Christmas. Between “New Moon” and “Blind Side,” new entries had to fight for leftovers as they unspooled Wednesday, although they still got to take part in the biggest Thanksgiving holiday ever at the domestic B.O.

The weekend alone was up as much as 15% over last year, while Thanksgiving Day also brought record revenues.

Disney’s John Travolta-Robin Williams comedy “Old Dogs” led the pack of newbies, grossing an estimated $24.1 million for the five days from 3,425 theaters, and $16.8 million for the weekend. That was well behind the $40 million opening of “Wild Hogs,” also directed by Walt Becker.

“Old Dogs” came in No. 4 behind “New Moon,” “Blind Side” and Sony’s holdover “2012,” which finished Sunday with a boffo worldwide total of $594.5 million.

Warners’ male-driven actioner “Ninja Assassin” opened to an estimated $21 million for the five days and $13.1 million for the weekend to place No. 6. Pic was produced and financed by Joel Silver’s Dark Castle, Legendary Pictures and Warners.

Wes Anderson’s prestige/family hybrid “Fantastic Mr. Fox,” from 20th Century Fox, grossed $9.5 million from 2,033 theaters for the five days and $7 million for the weekend; cume is $10.1 million. Pic, coming in No. 9 for the weekend and No. 8 for the five days, expanded nationwide on Wednesday after a two-week limited run.

At the specialty box office, the Weinstein Co.’s “The Road” grossed an estimated $1.5 million from 111 theaters for the weekend and $2 million for the five days. Opening Wednesday, it scored a per-location average of $13,720 for the weekend and $19,148 for the five days.

Disney’s 2D toon “The Princess and the Frog” saw nice numbers as it opened in two theaters in Gotham and Los Angeles, grossing $1.1 million for the five days and $712,000 for the weekend, for a screen average of $571,179 and $355,794, respectively.

Tickets for “Princess,” which expands nationwide Dec. 11, were a pricey $50, $30 and $20 and included a special event where kids could meet real-life animators and princesses.

Most expected “New Moon” to take a big hit in its second weekend, considering the enormity of its opening ($142.8 million), the third best of all time. Last year, “Twilight” saw a slimmer second-weekend drop of 62% but opened to far less, with $69 million.

While 70% is a bigger drop than most mega-openers experience, Summit knows there is only so far the franchise can expand. Franchises like “Spider-Man” or “Pirates of the Caribbean” usually see declines in the 60% range but benefit from a broader fanbase.

B.O. observers believe “New Moon” has a strong shot at reaching the $300 million mark domestically.

Overseas, the film is also doing bonanza business. “New Moon” opened No. 1 in Germany over the weekend, grossing an estimated $18 million. It stayed No. 1 in all its major markets, including the U.K., where it has now earned an estimated $31.5 million.

Sony’s “2012” also continued to wow overseas, where it has done far more business than domestically. Pic grossed an impressive $61.6 million for the weekend for a foreign cume of $455.8 million, compared to a domestic total of $138.8 million. China leads with an estimated $51.3 million.

The biggest headline domestically was “Blind Side,” which Warners will now push aggressively as an awards contender. On Thanksgiving Day, pic was one families could see together, beating “New Moon.”

Distributors from rival studios all say they expect “Blind Side” to be playing for weeks to come. While the movie’s opening weekend audience was largely female, the demos broadened over the Thanksgiving holiday. Film, based on the real-life story of football player Michael Oher, received an A+ CinemaScore.

“It has taken on a life of its own, propelled by word of mouth and great reviews,” Warners prexy of domestic distribution Dan Fellman said. “This is the only movie that has ever opened the week before Thanksgiving that has gone up to this degree.”

“Blind Side” has become the highest-grossing title for Alcon, launched by FedEx topper Fred Smith, since Alcon financed and produced the film on its own. Warners distributed and marketed.

Fred Smith’s daughter Molly Smith brought the project to Alcon, which is run by Broderick Johnson and Andrew Kosove.

Studios have been skittish to pursue sports dramas because of a string of B.O. underperformers, including Warners’ own “We Are Marshall” and Universal’s “The Express.” Some are drawing parallels between “Blind Side” and Lionsgate’s “Precious,” since both revolve around African-American kids who are able to turn their lives around.

“Precious” held steady at roughly 663 theaters over the Thanksgiving holiday, grossing an estimated $9.4 million for the five days and $7.1 million for the weekend. Pic dipped 35%, its first decline, but still sported one of the top location averages of the weekend at $10,694. Cume through Sunday was $32.4 million, a boffo number for a specialty film.

Fox used the Thanksgiving holiday to introduce “Mr. Fox” to mainstream family audiences after two weeks of strong play as an arthouse title. Voice cast is led by George Clooney and Meryl Streep. Results were mixed, with “Mr. Fox” coming in on the lower end of expectations.

Nearly half the audience turning out for “Mr. Fox” were under age 25, while 26% were under age 19, a sure sign that the pic was succeeding in wooing families.

“We know this is a special movie, and we considered this weekend as a broad platform release, so that we can capitalize on terrific word of mouth and tremendous critical response,” said Fox senior VP of domestic distribution Chris Aronson, explaining why the studio released the film in just 2,033 theaters.

Fox Searchlight consulted on the marketing for “Mr. Fox.”

Both “Ninja Assassin” and “Old Dogs” came in on the lower end of expectations as well, although their respective studios, Warners and Disney, insisted they were pleased with the results. Disney said “Old Dogs” has a key advantage in being the only fresh comedy in the market.

And Warners was celebrating the fact that it had reached domestic ticket sales of $1.83 billion through Sunday, beating last year’s record take of $1.78 billion.

The Weinstein Co.’s Bob Weinstein said John Hillcoat’s “The Road” is off to a strong start. Pic, starring Viggo Mortensen, is based on Cormac McCarthy’s bleak tome about a father and son wandering a post-apocalyptic world.

“It outperformed industry expectations,” Weinstein said.

Among other specialty openers, Freestyle’s Claire Danes-Zac Efron starrer “Me and Orson Welles,” directed by Richard Linklater, opened to an estimated $86,564 from four theaters in New York and L.A. for the five days, with $64,780 coming over the weekend. That translated into a per screen average of $21,641 and $16,195, respectively.

The trick now for Thanksgiving films, whether wide or specialty releases, will be to hold their ground as more year-end releases start unspooling.

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