The only thing that could make the opening of the new "Twilight" film look less than spectacular is the last "Twilight" film.
"The Twilight Saga: Eclipse" opened to an estimated $175.3 million in the United States and Canada from last Wednesday through the Monday holiday, $3.6 million short of what November's "New Moon" collected in its first six days. The shortfall is a bit surprising because the new vampire romance starring Robert Pattinson, Kristen Stewart and Taylor Lautner had the advantage of playing in the summer, when more young people are out of school on weekdays, and on Imax screens, which charge more for tickets.
Nonetheless, "Eclipse" still enjoyed the most successful first six days for any movie this year and grossed an additional $104 million overseas, making it an instant success for studio Summit Entertainment.
"The Last Airbender," a 3-D live-action adaptation of a Nickelodeon cartoon, had a strong start as well, collecting $70.5 million from its opening day Thursday through Monday.
The two films helped drive total box-office receipts up 19% from the July 4 weekend in 2009, providing a much-needed boost to what has been a soft summer for the Hollywood studios. Box-office revenue compared with last year has been down for most of the summer blockbuster movie season that began in early May, according to Hollywood.com, but is now up 1%. That doesn't account for rising ticket prices, however, and actual attendance is still down 5%.
Despite its huge opening, "Eclipse" is an unlikely candidate to beat "Toy Story 3," which is already at $301 million and appears to have plenty of life left in it, for the most successful movie so far in 2010.
Like the last two films based on Stephenie Meyer's bestselling vampire romance books, "Eclipse" had a huge opening day and saw its ticket sales decline rapidly thereafter, with sizable drops from Wednesday to Thursday and Friday to Saturday.
Fans seemed to love the new movie even more than "New Moon," however, giving it an average grade of A as opposed to A- for November's picture, according to market research firm CinemaScore. In addition, "Eclipse" drew a more diverse audience that was 35% male, instead of 20% for "New Moon," and 55% over 21, as opposed to 65%.
Summit is hopeful those advantages, along with summer playtime, will help give "Eclipse" a higher total gross than "New Moon."
"We can make up a lot of ground with midweek grosses because unlike the last two titles, we have got schools out across the country and kids available to us during the week," said Richard Fay, Summit's domestic distribution president.
"New Moon" dropped 70% on its second weekend and ended up with total domestic receipts of $296.6 million.
Regardless of whether it beats that mark, "Eclipse" is certain to be a hugely profitable title for Summit, as it cost $68 million to produce.
It's too early to tell whether the new "Twilight" film is on track to exceed the $413-million foreign gross of "New Moon" as it has yet to open in key countries such as Great Britain, France and South Korea. However, this weekend it enjoyed strong starts in 42 overseas territories including Spain, Australia, Brazil, Mexico, Russia and Romania.
While the opening of "Eclipse" was right in line with what pre-release polling had indicated, "Airbender" beat expectations, giving Paramount good early news for its only event movie of the summer. The fantasy adventure, which cost $150 million and is the first big-budget picture directed by M. Night Shyamalan, of "The Sixth Sense" and "Lady in the Water" fame, drew a younger, more male crowd than "Twilight."
Initial ticket sales weren't hurt by overwhelmingly negative reviews, but opening-night audiences gave the movie a C, indicating that they agreed with reviewers. That fact, combined with a decline in ticket sales from Friday to Saturday, point to bad word-of-mouth and a short box-office run.
But Paramount Vice Chairman Rob Moore said that CinemaScore may not have captured how well "Airbender" is playing to families and said prospects for the picture are bigger overseas, where it has yet to open.
"[Shyamalan's] track record is that his movies do much better internationally, as do action-adventure movies with lots of visual effects," said Moore. "And so far this year we have seen international audiences respond even more to 3-D than domestic audiences."
Several films already in theaters held on fairly well even though many people headed to fireworks and not movie theaters on Sunday. "Toy Story 3," "Grown Ups," "Knight & Day" and "The Karate Kid" all saw their ticket sales decline by about 50%.
In limited release, "Cyrus," the comedy starring John C. Reilly, Jonah Hill and Marisa Tomei, continues to do well. It expanded from 60 theaters to 77 and took in just over $1 million for the four-day weekend, bringing its total to $1.7 million. Fox Searchlight will attempt to build on its momentum by expanding "Cyrus" to about 160 locations on Friday.