'Eclipse' lags 'New Moon' over first five days

Summit predicts strong midweek sales post-July 4th

The latest "Twilight" movie earned $262 million during its first five days at the worldwide box office, but fell short of forecasts in North America while the foreign sales picture was murky.

"The Twilight Saga: Eclipse" sold about $162 million worth of tickets in the United States and Canada, distributor Summit Entertainment said on Sunday.

But a day earlier, the closely held studio had forecast a five-day haul of about $173 million. Its predecessor, "The Twilight Saga: New Moon," had earned about $165 million at the same point last November.

Summit said the Saturday forecast was simply a rough estimate, and it was not too concerned about "Eclipse" getting off to a slower start than "New Moon."

Even though the relentless hype on the vampire romance series soared to new levels, Americans in general are more concerned with U.S. Independence Day holiday weekend festivities, said Richie Fay, Summit's president of domestic theatrical distribution. He predicted strong midweek sales.

"I think it has a ways to go before we can say it's falling short," Fay said.

Internationally, the picture earned about $100 million from 42 countries. Direct comparisons with "New Moon," which opened to $118 million from just 25 countries, were difficult because Summit released data from just three countries: Spain, Italy and Australia.

Sales in all three countries were lower for "Eclipse" before adjusting for exchange rate movements, theater counts and the number of days of release. The film will add 22 countries next weekend, including Britain, France, which were in the first batch of "New Moon" foreign sales data.

Back in North America, Summit was heartened that more male moviegoers were taking in the continuing romantic adventures of teen Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart), vampire Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson) and werewolf Jacob Black (Taylor Lautner). Men accounted for about one-third of the audience, up from one-fifth for "New Moon."

Top critics liked the film more than they did "New Moon" and the first one, "Twilight," according to Web site Rotten Tomatoes. As usual, female "Twi-hard" fans lined up for days outside theaters before the film opened on Wednesday across the United States and Canada.

Summit predicted "Eclipse" sales would reach $181 million in North America after business for the U.S. holiday Monday was counted. But that six-day sum is down sharply from its Saturday forecast of $199 million.

For the traditional Friday-to-Sunday period, "Eclipse" earned an estimated $69 million, enjoying a wide lead over the rest of the field.

Opening at No. 2 was the family film "The Last Airbender," which exceeded expectations despite being one of the worst-reviewed movies of the year.

Director M. Night Shyamalan's adaptation of a Nickelodeon cartoon series earned $40.65 million for the three-day period. Including Thursday sales, its total stands at $53.2 million, said distributor Paramount Pictures.

The Viacom Inc. unit predicted the film's total would rise to $70.5 million with the inclusion of Monday sales, outpacing its hopes for a $50 million-plus opening.

The $150 million project generated worse reviews than even Adam Sandler's latest film "Grown Ups." Critics and protesters were incensed that the Indian-born Shyamalan cast mostly white actors in roles that were originated by Asian actors. Paramount countered that that was Shyamalan's creative choice, and the cast was still more diverse than any other summer release.

Shyamalan, famed for the box office smashes "The Sixth Sense" and "Signs," bombed with his last few releases. "The Last Airbender" is the first film based on material that he did not originate.

After two weeks at No. 1, Walt Disney Co's Pixar cartoon "Toy Story 3" -- one of the best-reviewed movies of the year -- slipped to No. 3 with $30.2 million. Its total rose to $289 million, making it the 10th biggest title in Disney history, the company said. The foreign total rose to $151 million after a $25.5 million weekend.