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'Breaking Dawn' the weekend's breakaway winner

The latest film culled from Stephenie Meyer's 'Twilight' book series grosses an estimated $139.5 million to obliterate runner-up 'Happy Feet Two's' $22 million.

November 21, 2011|By Amy Kaufman, Los Angeles Times
  • Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart in "The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn -- Part 1."
Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart in "The Twilight Saga: Breaking… (Andrew Cooper / Summit Entertainment )

The latest installment in the "Twilight" series didn't break franchise records this past weekend, but the film still had the fifth-best domestic opening of all time at the box office.

"The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn — Part 1" raked in $139.5 million, according to an estimate from distributor Summit Entertainment. While that was an impressive opening, "Breaking Dawn" fell just short of the $142.8-million opening weekend record held by the second movie in the series, 2009's "New Moon."

Meanwhile, "Happy Feet Two," the weekend's only other new release from a major studio, did not have much to smile about. The 3-D animated sequel starring dancing penguins collected a disappointing $22 million.

"Breaking Dawn," the fourth movie in the series based on Stephenie Meyer's popular vampire romance novels, was only the second film this year to open to more than $100 million, behind the final installment in the long-running "Harry Potter" franchise, which Warner Bros. released in July. In 2010, four movies debuted with more than $100 million.

Heading into the weekend, Summit said it was not expecting "Breaking Dawn" to gross more than $125 million this weekend, though prerelease audience surveys had forecast an opening of as much as $150 million.

Richie Fay, Summit's domestic distribution president, surmised that "Breaking Dawn" may have opened to a slightly lower figure than "New Moon" because the "Twilight" audience is "aging up."

"As we all know, as folks get older, the impulse to get out and be the first one to see the movie isn't there," Fay said. He said he expects the film to ultimately gross around $700 million worldwide, about the sum the last two "Twilight" films ended up collecting globally.

"Breaking Dawn," starring Robert Pattinson, Kristen Stewart and Taylor Lautner, features a highly anticipated wedding and a dramatic, high-risk pregnancy. The Bill Condon-directed film — which has received the worst critical reviews of any movie in the series — cost Summit about $110 million to produce after tax rebates.

Those who saw the film this past weekend — an 80% female crowd — assigned it an average grade of B+, according to market research firm CinemaScore. ("Happy Feet Two" received the same grade.) In the U.S., the movie did the most business at two theaters in Salt Lake City. The top-grossing theater was the Megaplex Theaters at Jordan Commons, which also sold more tickets to the last "Harry Potter" film than any other multiplex in the country last summer.

Overseas, where Summit has presold the film to local distributors, "Breaking Dawn" grossed $144 million in 54 foreign markets. The film performed best in the United Kingdom, where its star Pattinson hails from. The fourth picture brought in $22 million there and had the highest debut of any "Twilight" movie in the region.

The movie also did exceptionally well in Russia, where it grossed $15 million, and in France, where it collected $14.5 million.

"Happy Feet Two" had a far softer debut than its predecessor. The first movie, which won the Oscar for animated feature, debuted with $41.5 million in November 2006 and ended up grossing $384.3 million worldwide without the benefit of 3-D ticket surcharges. Roughly 50% of this weekend's "Happy Feet Two" ticket sales came from 3-D receipts.

After its lackluster start, it remains to be seen if the second "Happy Feet" will collect as much in ticket sales as the original. Warner Bros. and co-financier Village Roadshow Pictures spent about $135 million to produce "Happy Feet Two."

About 57% of audience members who turned up for the animated sequel this weekend were female. But Dan Fellman, Warner Bros.' president of domestic distribution, said the film lost much of that key demographic to "Breaking Dawn" this weekend.

"We were fighting for females from 'Twilight,' and we were expecting to have a little issue with them, but our weekend figure certainly came in a little under our expectations," Fellman said.

Still, he added, the studio felt it was worth it to open against "Breaking Dawn" to get out ahead of three new family films opening over the Thanksgiving holiday, "The Muppets," "Hugo" and "Arthur Christmas."

Fellman said he was not worried about the competition those three PG-rated films could present for "Happy Feet Two."

"The tracking on the movies that are opening is not great," he said, referring to information gathered from early audience polling.

amy.kaufman@latimes.com

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