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Box Office Report: 'Sherlock,' 'Alvin' Off to Grinch-Like Start as Film Biz Frets

Sherlock Holmes Game of Shadows 3 Shot Film Still - H 2011
Warner Bros.

Domestic box office revenues dip for third weekend in a row; one bright spot is "Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol," which rakes in $13.6 million in limited IMAX sneaks and opens to a sizzling $68.2 million overseas.

In a worrisome start to the holiday season, franchise installments Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows and Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked both dissapointed in their debuts, while overall box office revenues tumbled 14 percent from last year.

Warner Bros.' Game of Shadows topped the soft weekend with $40 million -- compared to a $62.3 million opening for Sherlock Holmes, which launched on Christmas Day in 2009.

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Chipwrecked, which fared worse, opened at No. 2 with $23.5 million, substantially less than the $48.9 million debut of Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakuel, which opened on Dec. 23, 2009, and the $44.3 million earned by the original Alvin and the Chipmunks over the Dec. 14-Dec. 16 weekend in 2007.

The 14 percent decline in domestic revenues further worried Hollywood studios, who are increasingly alarmed over the exodus of moviegoers from the multiplex. But the news isn't all bad. Films can rack up huge grosses during the year-end holidays beause of better-than-usual multiples, and Game of Shadows and Chipwrecked could make up ground. 

Warner Bros. didn't expect Game of Shadows to open at the same levels as the first Sherlock, which had the advantage of opening when the holiday season was fully underway.

"We never had any intention of replicating those grosses. We have 9 days before we get to Christmas, and we will have substantial box office revenues by the time we get there. We will get to where we ended up with the first movie," Warner president of domestic distribution Dan Fellman said.

However, even Warners expected the sequel to debut well north of $40 million, and had hoped for $50 million.

Last year, Disney's Tron Legacy opened on the same weekend to $44 million after grossing $17.5 million on Friday.

Game of Shadows, directed by Guy Ritchie and returning Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law in the title roles, did post better exits than the original film, earning an A-, compared to a B for the first. Of those buying tickets,  68 percent were over the age of 25, while men made up 59 percent of the audience. The sequel cost $125 million to produce, and was co-financed by Village Roadshow Pictures.

"The big news is that the exits were sensational, meaning strong legs," Fellman said.

Game of Shadows opened in six international markets, grossing a strong $14.7 million, including a No. 1 launch in the U.K. with $5.8 million and a $5 million debut in Italy.

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Another bright note to the weekend: Paramount's Mission: Impossible -- Ghost Protocol grossed $13.6 million from limited IMAX sneaks in advance of its Dec. 21 nationwide debut. Coming in No. 3 behind Sherlock and Alvin, Ghost Protocol played in 425 locations for a massive per screen average of $32,000. A big draw was an extended preview of Warner Bros.' The Dark Knight Rises.

Overseas, Paramount opened Ghost Protocol in 36 markets, where it launched to a stellar $68.2 milllion.

Ghost Protocol played on 300 IMAX screens--earning $11 million--and 125 on large-format screens. Overseas, Ghost Protocol eanred an additional $3 million from 85 IMAX loations for a total $14 million, the best December opening on record for IMAX. Skydance co-financed the tentpole with Paramount.

"It feels like we are in strong shape," said Paramount vice chairman Rob Moore, adding that fans do indeed love the movie, along with critics. Ghost Protocol currently has a 95 percent ranking on RottenTomatoes.com.

Fox senior vice president of distribution Chris Aronson said comparisons for Chipwrecked are difficult, since it's the only one of the three films in the franchise to open over the last full shopping weekend before Christmas, when moviegoers are preoccupied with buying gifts. He said Chipwrecked, which cost $80 million to produce, will make up ground in the coming days.

"We will have a great multiple. The midweek numbers will be terrific as we move into the serious moviegoing stretch between Christmas and New Year's," Aronson said.

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Chipwrecked, appealing heavily to families as expected, earned a B+ CinemaScore, compared to an A for the original. However, those under the age of 25, including kids, gave it an A-.

Internationally, Chipwrecked earned $14.5 million as it rolled out in 38 markets, of which only six were major territories.

Elsewhere at the box office, New Line and Warner Bros.' New Year's Eve fell 43 percent in its second weekend, grossing an estimated $7.4 million for a soft domestic cume of $24.8 milion.

New Year's Eve placed No. 4, followed by Fox's Jonah Hill R-rated comedy The Sitter, which dropped a sizeable 55 percent to an estimated $4.4 million for a 10-day cume of $17.7 million.

Paramount's Charlize Theron black comedy Young Adult grossed an estimated $3.7 million as it upped its theater count from 8 to 986 in its second weekend for a cume of $4.1 million. Paramount said the Jason Reitman-directed film, penned by Diablo Cody, did solid business in coming in No. 7 for the weekend.

Martin Scorsese's Hugo, an awards darling that landed top Golden Globe nominations last week, followed with an estimated gross of $3.6 million from 2,532 theaters for a domestic cume of $39.1 million in is fourth weekend.

Focus Features' Tinker, Tailor, Soldier Spy, produced by Working Title, held up well in its second weekend, grossing an estimated $452,278 from 16 theaters for a location average of $28,267--the best of any film outside of Mission: Impossible ($30,558). The critically acclaimed Tinker Tailor wasn't slowed down by being shut out of Golden Globe nominations.

Specialty openings included Roman Polanski's Carnage, which grossed $85,696 from five theaters for a location average of $17,139. Sony Pictures Classics is distributing the film in the U.S.

Domestic Box Office Dec. 16-Dec. 18

Title/Weeks in Release/Studio/Theater Count/Weekend Total/Cume

1. Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (1), Warner Bros./3,703, $40 million

2. Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked (1), 20th Century Fox/2,723, $23.5 million

3. Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol (1), Paramount/425, $13 million, $13.6 million

4. New Year's Eve (2), Warner Bros./New Line/3,505, $7.4 million, $24.8 million

5. The Sitter (2), 20th Century Fox/2,850, $4.4 million, $17.1 million

6. The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn--Part 1 (5), Summit/2,958, $4.3 million, $266.4 million

7. Young Adult (2), Paramount/986, $3.7 milllion, $4.1 million

8. Hugo (4), Paramount/2,523, $3.6 million, $39.1 million

9. Arthur Christmas (4), Sony/2,929, $3.6 million, $38.5 million

10. The Muppets (4), Disney/2,808 $3.5 million, $70.9 million