Fierce competition for the family audience and a bounty of choices in adult dramas this Thanksgiving weekend spread the biggest chunk of box office closely among the three top films.
After Universal Pictures revised to $25.6 million its earlier Sunday estimate of $24.7 million, "Dr. Seuss' the Cat in the Hat" squeezed ahead of Disney's "The Haunted Mansion," a new release starring Eddie Murphy that took No. 2 with an estimated $25.3 million.
Rankings for those two films as well as other close calls could change when more complete figures are available today.
Disney executives said they were pleased with the opening but acknowledged it was a hard weekend to break out.
"We saw a lot of competition for our audience," said Chuck Viane, head of distribution for Buena Vista Pictures, noting that 80% of Disney's moviegoers were families.
"Elf," New Line Cinema's surprise hit, came in at No. 3, actually increasing business by 18% over the weekend for an estimated gross of $22.2 million in its fourth weekend. That movie, starring Will Ferrell, has grossed $130.1 million, and its continuing strong performance indicates it is well-positioned to remain in the top 10 for the remainder of the holiday season.
Interestingly, the three top films star alumni of NBC's "Saturday Night Live": Mike Myers ("Cat"), Murphy ("Mansion") and Ferrell ("Elf").
Meantime, tallies for the next four slots were nearly as close.
Ron Howard's dark western "The Missing" drew a lackluster $11.7 million over the three days and has taken in $16.5 million since Wednesday. Though the movie received strong reviews, it remains to be seen whether the potential Oscar contender can gain a foothold in the market.
"We were not quite sure what the movie would do," said Tom Sherak, a partner at Revolution Studios, which produced the film distributed by Sony Pictures. "We were concerned about all the adult pictures in the market. But we are optimistic."
Other new pictures included the R-rated "Bad Santa," in which Billy Bob Thornton plays a foulmouthed, boozing Santa Claus. Distributed by Dimension Films, the Terry Swigoff-directed comedy grossed an estimated $12.5 million in 2,005 theaters for the three days.
Among holdovers, "Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World" dropped only 16% in its third week with a weekend estimate of $12.7 million, tying with the second-weekend estimate for "Gothika." The adult-themed romantic dramedy "Love Actually" dropped only 4% in its fourth weekend and sneak previews of "The Last Samurai" and "Cheaper by the Dozen" presented even more choices for moviegoers.
Specialized films in limited release added to choices for adults. The best showings came from Sony Pictures Classics' "The Triplets of Belleville," which grossed $114,636 in three days for an average of $19,106 for the six venues, and Fox Searchlight's "In America," which brought in $202,730 in 11 theaters for an average of $18,430.
Lions Gate Films' "The Cooler" grossed $130,000 in three days for a per-screen average of $11,818 in 11 theaters.
And "21 Grams" remained strong in its second weekend, grossing $985,565 in 73 theaters for a per-site average of $13,500. It has grossed $1.6 million so far.
Paramount's time-tripping sci-fi adventure "Timeline" landed with a thud at No. 8 with an estimated $8.5 million in three days.
The top 12 films grossed an estimated $209.5 million for what likely will be the second-best five-day Thanksgiving period, according to box office tracking firm Exhibitor Relations.
The record of $244.4 million for all films in release was set in 2000, when "Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas" held sway with Jim Carrey in the title role.
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Preliminary results based on studio projections.
*--* Movie 3-day gross Total (millions)
*--* Dr. Seuss' The Cat in the Hat $25.6 $77
The Haunted Mansion $25.3 $35
Elf $22.2 $130.1
Gothika $12.7 $41.1
Master and Commander $12.7 $67.5
Bad Santa $12.5 $16.8
The Missing $11.7 $16.5
Timeline $8.5 $12.6
Love Actually $8.2 $43.7
Brother Bear $4.9 $77.7
Source: Nielsen EDI, Inc.
Los Angeles Times