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Weekend box office report: Blindsided

Posted by Ty Burr  November 30, 2009 09:49 AM

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Sandra Bullock and company strategizing on how best to take down teen vampires

Well, yes, "The Twilight Saga: New Moon" continued to rule the box office over the holidays and with $230 million in US tickets has in ten days already passed the $193 million total gross for the original "Twilight." Looking closer, though, the real winner of the Turkey Day bake-off was "The Blind Side," which took off now that everyone and their cousin had seen the teen-vampire movie.

The three-day weekend results show "New Moon"'s $42.5 million representing a 70 percent drop from its first weekend earnings -- that's nearly a record tumble -- while ticket sales for the Sandra Bullock football-themed drama actually increased 18% in its second weekend. If you look at the five-day weekend numbers, covering Wednesday through Sunday, the split is even more dramatic: "The Blind Side" made 70 percent more than during its first weekend out.

Apples and oranges (or 3-day vs 5-day), I know, but only to a degree. What these numbers say is that:

"New Moon" has quickly exhausted its mass potential and is down to repeat business from the hardcore teen-girl audience (like my daughters, who saw the movie for a second time over the weekend and commented on how empty the theater was).

A movie, like "The Blind Side," that sells family, football, and all-American altruism will do very, very well at holiday time. Especially when it features a resurgent star in Bullock and turns out to be more nuanced than its schematic, sentimental previews suggest. I'm not saying "Blind Side" is a brilliant movie but it's entertainingly provocative (and racially soothing) in ways mainstream audiences genuinely respond to. In other words, what's propelling this film is word of mouth -- I could see (and hear) it in action around the Thanksgiving table this weekend -- and that explains the bump up in ticket sales as much, if not more, than the vacuum created by "New Moon" leaving the pop-culture building.

The Robin Williams/John Travolta farce "Old Dogs" pulled in a decent $16.8 million over the weekend ($25 million from Wednesday through Sunday). Yes, it got the worst reviews of the year but judging by my mailbag there's a sizeable contingent of moviegoers that found "Dogs" to be good, clean family fun (although how a guy getting repeatedly whacked in the 'nads with a golf ball is considered "family fun" I have no idea). Every season there's one movie that exposes the yawning gap between media opinionators and middle American audiences, and this is the latest entry. Is there any way to talk about this split without insulting everyone involved? Stay tuned.

Further down the box office charts, "Fantastic Mr. Fox" went wide from a handful of theaters to 2,033 and pulled in $7 million, not bad for such an odd kettle of fish but probably a disappointment to its fans. It's worth noting that "Precious" grossed the same amount in less than a third as many theaters, indicating it still hasn't burned through its must-see status. (And why is Lions Gate not pulling the trigger and taking this wide? Because it's waiting for the year-end critics' lists and awards nominations, that's why.) The only films beating out "Precious" in terms of three-day per-theater average ($10,694) were "Blind Side" ($13K), "The Road" ($14K at 111 theaters), "Me and Orson Welles" ($16K at 4 theaters) and -- whoa, Nellie -- "The Princess and the Frog," which opened at two theaters (NY and LA) and averaged $356,000 at each. It goes wide this weekend.

More numbers from Box Office Mojo and Leonard Klady.

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Ty Burr is a film critic with The Boston Globe.

Mark Feeney is an arts writer for The Boston Globe.

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Tom Russo is a regular correspondent for the Movies section and writes a weekly column on DVD releases.

Katie McLeod is Boston.com's features editor.

Rachel Raczka is a producer for Lifestyle and Arts & Entertainment at Boston.com.

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