(Lenny Kravitz and Gabourey Sidibe in "Precious")
"Disney's A Christmas Carol" made $31 million over the weekend -- sounds like a success, yes? Hardly. When you consider that the Jim Carrey full-motion capture 3D extravaganza opened on 6,500 screens at over 3,600 theaters, that number looks a bit more temperate. "Elf" made the same amount when it opened in fewer theaters in early November 2003, and "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" earned much more ($55 million) on the weekend of Nov. 17, 2000. (Keep in mind, too, that grosses for the new movie are further inflated by higher ticket prices for 3D and IMAX screenings.) On the plus side, "Christmas Carol" outperformed Robert Zemeckis' last holiday-themed full-motion widget, "The Polar Express," which opened to $23 million in November, 2004.
Still, what went "wrong"? It's possible that the 3D hand that gaveth all summer (with films like "Up" and "G-Force" benefiting from exposure in the format) can also taketh away. A huge 74% of the movie's grosses came from the 32% of theaters that were able to show it in 3D, meaning that audiences realized they had to see this with the funny glasses or not at all. Add to that a whoop-de-do marketing campaign (posters featuring a manic Carrey aboard a Victorian rocket) at serious odds with the film's more reverent tone, and possible word of mouth that this wasn't the kiddie thrill ride it was being sold as, and you have a Christmas cracker that didn't pop all that loud. "Polar Express" ultimately built to a very solid $162 final US gross, and it's possible that "Carol" may yet do so.
Other new releases fared passably but not spectacularly. "The Men Who Stare at Goats" made $13.3 million, about as good as could be expected for a George Clooney movie with a weird title. The aliens-are-among-us shenanigans of "The Fourth Kind" sucked in $12 million worth of credulous viewers and "The Box" -- a paranoid thriller from "Donnie Darko" director Richard Kelly that was gingerly mishandled by Warner Brothers (which sold it as a Cameron Diaz "Twilight Zone" episode and only screened it for critics at the last minute) -- made $8 million.
Michael Jackson in "This is It" held on strongly its second week -- dipping only 40 percent from opening weekend -- but "Paranormal Activity" seems done now that Halloween is over and with nearly $100 million in tickets sold overall has nothing to be ashamed of.
The story of the weekend in limited-release land was "Precious" (photo above), the tough inner-city inspirational drama that has been building steam ever since its debut at Sundance last January. Reviews were over the moon (mostly) when the film finally was released in New York, LA, and elsewhere last Friday, and the buzz was such that the talk was of little else at a dinner party I attended Saturday night in suburban Boston -- two weeks before the film opens here. (Usually, movies don't land on that radar until well after they've debuted locally.) "Precious" made $1.8 million at 18 screens, which is a $100,000 per-screen-average, the 12th highest on record. Yes, a big thumbs up from Oprah and Tyler Perry and a glowing feature article in the New York Times magazine certainly helped. Is this the year's Oscar winner? I think its too unpolished and melodramatic at points -- arguably one of the movie's strengths -- to take the big prize, but the real win for "Precious" is that millions of people are going to see it.