Ensembler wins weekend with $13.7 mil; 'Sitter' nabs $10 mil

While domestic box office, led by a paltry $13.7 million opening for Warner Bros.’ “New Year’s Eve,” saw its lowest frame in more than three years, stalwart holdovers propped up overseas B.O., with Paramount-DreamWorks Animation’s “Puss in Boots” rallying to nab a chart-topping $45.6 million.

“New Year’s Eve” beat out 20th Century Fox’s new entry “The Sitter,” which collected an estimated $10 million domestically. But Warners expected the star-powered ensembler to hit at around $20 million for the weekend. “The Sitter” performed in line with pre-weekend projections.

Neither pic was able to ignite pre-holiday filmgoing — even though past years have seen good business in this frame.

Stateside B.O., totaling in the mid- to-high $70 millions through Sunday, was down from last weekend’s typically sluggish post-Thanksgiving frame, at $81 million. A B.O. weekend total hasn’t been this low since the Sept. 5, 2008, frame, which generated just $67.9 million.

“It’s rare that this week would fall below last weekend,” said Warner domestic distribution chief Dan Fellman, who added that big titles launching next weekend, such as “Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows” and “Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked,” will be an important test for the industry.

In advance of overseas school holidays, “Puss in Boots” added 16 territories this weekend, including top market Germany, where the toon collected $7.2 million.

“Puss,” which has cumed $142.3 million internationally, unseated reigning overseas champ “The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn — Part 1,” which grossed a projected $19.8 million in its fourth frame for a cume of $374 million.

While Stateside wide releases mostly fell short, the weekend’s crop of specialty titles performed well, led by Focus Features’ “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.” “Tailor” scored the year’s third-highest per-screen average for a traditional theatrical release, with an estimated average of $75,184 from four locations.

Oscilloscope’s “We Need to Talk About Kevin” had an Oscar-qualifying run at New York’s Angelika Film Center, posting the theater’s best-ever three-day gross ($24,000) on a single screen.

Par did well with Jason Reitman’s black comedy “Young Adult,” which launched in limited for an estimated three-day gross of $320,000. That’s an average of $40,000 from eight engagements.

Fickle femmes at B.O.?

“Young Adult” should have a strong female fanbase, according to Par marketing and distribution head Megan Colligan. That’s one reason why it decided on a limited launch before an expansion to some 1,000 locations next weekend.

“It’s always tricky with women in the weeks leading up to Christmas,” Colligan said. “And with ‘Young Adult,’ I think it’s important that we’re not at 3,000 locations next weekend. This is a film that needs room to grow.”

By comparison, “New Year’s Eve” skewed heavily toward women, who repped 70% of the film’s opening. The film stalled, however, with under-18 auds, at just 22%.

The B.O.’s usual femme slowdown around this time of year is attributed to that demo being preoccupied with pre-holiday activities. Most pics that have opened well during this frame haven’t been targeted to women (e.g., “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader,” “I Am Legend”).

This year, “Twilight” may have overextended the femme market, and in the case of “New Year’s Eve,” poor critical responses for “Valentine’s Day” — Warner’s 2010 holiday-themed ensembler — could have negatively affected the new pic. Adult femme-skewing films are usually more review sensitive.

But “New Year’s Eve” had a better CinemaScore rating (B+) than did “Valentine’s Day,” which received an overall B appraisal.

Fellman said he’s “cautiously optimistic,” as the studio looks to build word of mouth on “New Year’s Eve” and recoup its $56 million pricetag, not including marketing costs. The film could see a higher multiple than “Valentine’s Day,” though it won’t likely outgross “Valentine’s Day” since that pic opened to $56 million in three days.

Warners bowed “New Year’s Eve” in a total of 36 international territories, led by Australia ($2.8 million), the U.K. ($2.4 million) and Germany ($1.8 million). In total, the film took in an estimated $12.9 million overseas.

Fox senior VP of domestic distribution Chris Aronson insisted that “The Sitter” is on track to become profitable thanks to a relatively inexpensive budget in the low-$20 millions. Fox won’t release the film internationally until early next year, but overseas prospects rarely start out aces for American comedies.

Domestically, “The Sitter” saw an even split between the genders, with 53% of the aud over 25 — not surprising given its R rating. Moviegoers gave the film a less-than-desireable C+ rating, according to CinemaScore, though under-25 auds ranked it slightly better with a B-.

Family-skewing leftovers

Securing the week’s best holds for wide releases were the top family pics, Sony’s “Arthur Christmas” and Paramount’s “Hugo.” That pair have been playing neck-and-neck since launching three weeks ago, having cumed just shy of $25 million each.

This time around, “Arthur Christmas,” with an estimated $6.6 million, eked by “Hugo” ($6.1 million), the former dropping just 11% from last weekend vs. a 19% decline for “Hugo.”

“Arthur Christmas” should continue to play well to families through Christmas, while “Hugo” looks to build steam as awards season intensifies. The two pics, however, will compete next weekend with Fox’s “Alvin and the Chipmunks” three-quel — though “Hugo” could benefit from a nonfamily adult following.

Par’s “Puss in Boots,” with a Stateside cume of $141.9 million, fell from the B.O.’s top 10 for the first time in seven weeks with $1.7 million, while Disney’s “The Muppets” ranked fourth, tallying $7.1 million through Sunday for a total $65.8 million.

Holding well in both specialty and commercial plexes, Fox Searchlight’s “The Descendants” dropped 8% for an estimated weekend gross of $4.4 million. Pic, which has grossed $$23.6 million, added 300 locations for a total 876 in its fourth week.

Fox Searchlight’s NC-17-rated “Shame” also expanded in its soph sesh but to a limited 21 locations, averaging $13,146. Pic has cumed nearly $775,000.

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