‘Frog’ hops to top of box office

Disney toon takes in $25 million

Disney’s “The Princess and the Frog” leapfrogged over the competish to top the domestic box office, grossing an estimated $25 million from 3,434 theaters in a solid start for the traditionally animated pic.

Opening in a handful of market overseas, “Princess” grossed $7 million for a worldwide total of $32 million.

Warner Bros. took the Nos. 2 and 3 spots domestically with holdover “The Blind Side” and new entry “Invictus,” respectively.

“Invictus,” the latest from Clint Eastwood, grossed an estimated $9.1 million from 2,125 runs, drawing a largely older adult aud. Drama, co-financed by Spyglass Entertainment, saw a slightly more modest bow than Eastwood’s other recent films, but box office observers are taking a wait-and-see attitude before judging the pic’s prospects.

On the specialty side, Paramount and DreamWorks’ “The Lovely Bones,” directed by Peter Jackson, posted the best location average of the sesh — $38,666 — as it opened in three locations in New York and L.A., grossing an estimated $116,000.

Also debuting was the Weinstein Co.’s “A Single Man,” which pulled in an estimated $216,328 from nine theaters in its debut, giving it a per-location average of $24,306. The film marks Tom Ford’s directorial debut.

Paramount’s George Clooney starrer “Up in the Air” continued to impress in its second frame as it expanded to 72 locations, grossing an estimated $2.5 million for a per-location average of $34,722 and cume of $4.1 million. (Film expands nationwide on Christmas Day.)

Pics bowing over the weekend are jockeying for position in the Christmas season, a crowded time for commercial tentpoles and dramas vying for adult eyeballs — and awards attention. The week between Christmas and New Year’s can generate enormous business for all sorts of fare.

For specialty films, the name of the game right now is to be on the list of Golden Globe nominations to be announced Tuesday. This year, prestige pics could find themselves competing for awards attention with a number of more commercial releases, including “Invictus,” “Blind Side” and “Avatar.”

Overall, the domestic B.O. was up 10% over the same frame a year ago. The film biz is now less than $400 million away from jumping the $10 billion line in domestic ticket sales in a single year for the first time ever.

At the international B.O., Summit Entertainment’s “New Moon” won the weekend, grossing an estimated $22.3 million from 9,163 playdates in 66 territories for a foreign cume of $358.7 million.

“New Moon” came in No. 4 domestically, declining 48% to an estimated $8 million for a cume of $267.4 million and worldwide total of $626.1 million. “Twilight” sequel has made nearly $100 million more overseas, reflecting the increasing popularity of the franchise in foreign markets.

Sony’s “2012” also remained an international powerhouse, grossing $20 million at the foreign B.O. from 8,540 runs in 77 territories for a staggering total of $556 million. With $155.3 million domestically, pic’s worldwide haul stands at $711.3 million.

“Blind Side,” which has yet to open overseas, continued to show plenty of stamina in its fourth sesh domestically, grossing an estimated $15.5 million from 3,388 locations for a cume of $150.2 million. Film, fully financed and produced by Alcon Entertainment, has turned into a sleeper hit. Pic toplining Sandra Bullock and Quinton Aaron has won over the family aud.

This weekend, younger families turned out for “Princess,” which was a girl magnet, unsurprisingly. A full 64% of the audience was female. But unaccompanied adults made up 20% of the audience, a strong number that was likely the result of positive reviews, Disney prexy of domestic distribution Chuck Viane said.

“Ron Clements and John Musker, the directors, and the entire animated team have created a story that leaps off the screen,” Viane said.

“Princess” scored the best nationwide debut for a toon opening in December, although it technically bowed in November, albeit as a limited run. Part of the reason is that most animated titles open around Thanksgiving, as “Princess” did.

Last November, Disney’s “Bolt” opened to an estimated $26.2 million.

Overseas, “Princess” did 10% better than “Bolt.” Germany led with $2.8 million from 544, followed by Mexico with $1.5 million from 425.

“Princess” received an A CinemaScore from domestic auds, while “Invictus” scored an A-. CinemaScores can have plenty of significance; “Blind Side” received an A+, a point not lost on Hollywood as the movie far outpaces expectations (many now think “Blind Side” will cume north of $200 million).

Like “Blind Side,” “Invictus” is anchored around a sport, rugby. Storyline, based on real events, revolves around Nelson Mandela’s efforts to use the 1995 World Rugby Cup to unify South Africa. Damon plays the captain of the South African team.

A full 69% of the audience turning out for “Invictus” were over age 30. Aud was evenly split between males and females.

“Clint’s movies are always a marathon, never a sprint,” Warner Bros. prexy of domestic distribution Dan Fellman said.

Several of Eastwood’s recent films have begun in a limited run for one or two weeks in December before unspooling nationwide in early January. “Mystic River” grossed $10.4 million when expanding wide, while “Million Dollar Baby” earned $16.6 million.

“Gran Torino,” Eastwood’s highest-grossing film, posted a weekend total of $29.5 million last January as it went wide.

Among holdovers, notables included Robert Zemeckis’ “Disney’s A Christmas Carol,” which declined a mere 11% in its sixth week to $6.9 million from 2,402 for a cume of $124.5 million.

Overseas, the 3D holiday title grossed $14.8 million from 5,298 playdates in 50 territories for a cume of $146.8 million and worldwide tally of $271.3 million. Naysayers had been quick to write off the film after a lackluster opening.

On the specialty side, Sony Pictures Classics’ “Broken Embraces,” directed by Pedro Almodovar, secured the fourth best per-theater average of the sesh after “Up in the Air,” “Lovely Bones” and “Single Man.”

In its frame, “Broken Embraces” grossed $115,164 from six screens for a location average of $19,194 and cume of $602,357.

The Weinstein Co.’s Harvey Weinstein said the decision to release “Single Man” in nine theaters in N.Y., L.A., San Francisco, Pasadena and Toronto vs. just a few was designed to expose the film to award voters on a bigscreen vs. screeners. “We are very, very satisfied,” Weinstein said.

Par was likewise pleased with the performances of “Lovely Bones,” toplining Mark Wahlberg and Rachel Weisz, and “Up in the Air.”

“Up in the Air’s” $2.6 million weekend total was comparable to the $2.3 million grossed by “Gran Torino” last December when expanding to 84 theaters.

And the “Lovely Bones” screen average was slightly better than the opening weekend screen average of Fox Searchlight’s “Slumdog Millionaire,” which came in at $36,000 from 10 theaters. Film is based on Alice Sebold’s bestselling book.

Outside the awards arena, Apparition continues to grow the total for sequel “Boondock Saints II: All Saint’s Day,” which grossed $780,148 from 524 theaters for a cume of $8.5 million, one of the top numbers of the year for a limited release.

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