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Family film Wreck-It Ralph opened to a record-breaking $49.1 million from 3,752 theaters — the top weekend debut for a Disney Animation Studios title.
The record had been held by Tangled, which opened with $48.8 million during Thanksgiving weekend in 2010. (Opening on a Wednesday, the film grossed $68.6 million in its first five days.)
Wreck-It Ralph did especially well on Friday in the Northeast, where families looked for a distraction from the aftermath of superstorm Sandy. Most of the 300 theaters closed early last week because of Sandy were back in business by the weekend.
Moviegoing for the weekend on the East Coast was solid but not spectacular. Still, box-office grosses nationwide were up 23 percent over a year ago, when Puss in Boots debuted in first place with $34.1 million.
Overseas, Wreck-It Ralph rolled out in its first six markets, grossing a pleasing $12 million for a worldwide bow of $61.1 million.
“For a company whose foundation was built on animation, it’s a pretty incredible thing to have Tangled and now Wreck-It Ralph do such great business,” Disney executive vp distribution Dave Hollis said. “It is a testament to the storytelling, and it’s about connecting with both families and adults.”
Wreck-It Ralph, which nabbed an A CinemaScore domestically, cost $165 million to produce. Families made up 68 percent of the audience.
Directed by Rich Moore, the 3D toon tells the story of an arcade game villain — voiced by John C. Reilly — who is sick of playing the bad guy and begins game jumping, which is forbidden. The voice cast also includes Sarah Silverman, Jack McBrayer and Jane Lynch.
Denzel Washington adult drama Flight, directed by Robert Zemeckis, also overperformed in its debut, grossing $25 million from 1,884 theaters to come in No. 2. The film earned an A- CinemaScore, with nearly 90 percent of the audience over age 25.
Paramount is mounting an aggressive awards campaign for the film, with Washington already considered a front-runner for an Oscar nomination for best actor. The studio hopes to build word-of-mouth and foster a long run by only opening the film in 1,900 locations. Paramount took a similar approach with The Fighter, which opened to $12.1 million from 2,500 theaters in 2010.
“We wanted to be measured so that we can expand in the coming weeks,” said Paramount president of domestic marketing and distribution Megan Colligan, adding that it also allows the studio to hold back a bit until after Skyfall opens next weekend.
“There’s no doubt that Bond will be a big movie, and we had always looked to expand Flight the weekend after Skyfall opens,” Colligan said. “With word-of-mouth this strong, there will be an audience for both films.”
Flight, which cost $31 million to produce, is Zemeckis’ first live-action film since Cast Away. Paramount marketed the film both to Washington’s fans and adult moviegoers.
Awards rival Argo continued to be a crowd-pleaser in its fourth weekend, grossing $10.2 million from 2,774 theaters to come in No. 4. The Warner Bros. film has now earned $75.9 million domestically.
Universal’s new kung fu pic The Man With the Iron Fists opened to $8.2 million from 1,868 theaters to come in No. 4. The pic, which cost just $15 million to produce, marks the directorial debut of RZA and earned a C+ CinemaScore. Quentin Tarantino presented.
Liam Neeson action pic Taken 2 continued to prosper in its fifth weekend, grossing $6 million to come in No. 5 and pushing its domestic cume to $125.7 million. Worldwide, the 20th Century Fox film has grossed $343.4 million.
Big-budget epic Cloud Atlas continued to struggle, coming in No. 6 in its second weekend. The film, with a cast led by Tom Hanks and Halle Berry, declined 45 percent to $5.3 million for a domestic total of $18.3 million.
At the specialty box office, eOne’s A Late Quartet debuted in nine theaters, grossing $75,899 for a per-location average of $8,433. Starring Philip Seymour Hoffman, Christopher Walken, Katherine Keener and Imogen Poots, the film likely lost some business because of the closure of theaters in Lower Manhattan until Saturday.
Barry Levinson’s eco-thriller The Bay disappointed in its debut, grossing $21,429 from 23 theaters for a tepid average of $932. Roadside Attractions is distributing the film domestically.
Fox Searchlight’s The Sessions upped its theater count to 69 with so-so results. The awards contender, starring John Hawkes and Helen Hunt, grossed $455,899 for a per-screen average of $6,607 and cume of $930,817 in its third weekend.
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