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SATURDAY PM/SUNDAY AM: If there’s a Christmas-themed movie opening in November, then it’s the official start of the holiday box office. (Hey, no studio waits for Thanksgiving anymore…)

1. Disney’s A Christmas Carol. You know it as Charles Dickens’ novel, but Disney had a problem with title rights, so now it’s their pic. Hollywood predicted the 3-D family film to make at least $35M and possibly $40M this weekend because of its wide release into 3,683 theaters domestically, including 2,035 3-D locations and 181 IMAX screens). But the Jim Carrey starrer (he plays lotsa roles, including all 3 ghosts) directed by Robert Zemeckis (who used the same motion capture technology as Polar Express and Beowulf) made only $31M after opening with an underperforming $8.9 million Friday and a Saturday kiddie bump of $12.9M (+43%) despite the higher ticket prices. Nearly three fourths of the gross came from 3-D, while IMAX made 14.5% of the cume, or $4.5M. It was Bob Zemeckis’ biggest opening 3-day weekend ever. Exit polling showed the audience makeup was 51%/49% under/over age 25, 15% teens, and 47% male/53% female. “Poor reviews coupled with the ‘too dark for kids’ attitude may really be hurting the opening,” a rival studio exec told me Friday night. “Throw that in with the possibility that they just might be a bit too early with the Christmas theme, and you have the possibility of a really lackluster debut for an expensive movie. Mr. Iger will not be happy.”

Overseas, A Christmas Carol opened day-and-date in 18 territories and mostly in 3-D, including UK, Germany, Australia, Mexico, Brazil. Disney is reporting $12 million from the 2,750 international screens. 3D was 62% of the business from 37% of screens. It was No. 1 over the second weekend of Michael Jackson’s This Is It narrowly in the UK and Mexico. Next weekend the film opens in Spain, Japan and Colombia. Disney is comparing the overseas biz to 50% better than Polar Express but that only did $124M internationally total.

the_fourth_kind_poster2. Michael Jackson’s This Is It has picked up considerable steam worldwide since it’s opening 12 days ago. Sony announced the concert rehearsal footage passed the $100 million mark overseas after just 9 days of screen time. The pic did another $29M overseas gross this weekend for an international cume of $128.6. Domestically, the film has taken in an additional $57.8 million for a worldwide total of $186.4 million after this weekend. Between the Jackson estate, concert promoter AEG, movie theaters, and Sony,  that cume has to be split at least 4 ways. On Friday, the pic moved up to 2nd place with $4.1M Friday and $5.7M Saturday (+42%) from 3,481 plays for a domestic weekend of $14M (a better than expected drop of -40% from a week ago).

3. Disagree with me all you want, but I found the trailers for The Men Who Stare At Goats so godawful that they repelled me from seeing the movie which looked like one big inside joke for stars George Clooney, Ewan McGregor, Kevin Spacey, and Jeff Bridges. And it was since it’s directed by Clooney’s producing partner Grant and produced by Clooney and Heslov’s Smokehous (along with BBC Films and Winchester Capital Partners). Lucky for them, it was acquired by Overture for just $5M because the R-rated pic made just $4.6M Friday and $5.4M Saturday (+16%) from 2,443 plays despite the well-known cast. (It might also be a case of bad timing given the Texas military massacre. This isn’t the best weekend to make fun of that institution.) Still, a weekend of $13.3M is disappointing in terms of ticket sales and Clooney’s popularity but looks like gravy on this goat. This is the first of two more holiday movies featuring Clooney: Fantastic Mr. Fox & Up In The Air.

4. Maybe there was an unsatiated appetite for Halloween horror after last weekend’s gazillion movies in the genre. But The Fourth Kind other-worldly thriller, produced by Gold Circle Films and acquired by Universal for distribution in the U.S., came in with $5M Friday from 2,529 runs and $4.8M Saturday (-4M%) for a $12.5M weekend. No one in the box office predicting biz thought much of this first-person verite experience. Like Paranormal Activity from Paramount pic, Uni also waged a big viral marketing campaign on the Internet.the-box-poster But it performed better than expected, with exit polls showing the audience was 55% male/45% female and 61% under age 25/39% over 25.

5. Even going into its 7th week of release, Paramount’s  low budget phenom Paranormal Activity keeps scaring up moviegoers. It made $2.8M Friday and $3.6M Saturday from a wider 2,558 theaters for an $8.6M weekend and a new cume of $97.4M.

6. Why Cameron Diaz, James Marsden, and Frank Langella would waste their star power on this stillborn mess The Box from Media Rights Capital and distributed by Warner Bros is anybody’s guess. Maybe its pedigree from cult favorite Donnie Darko director Richard Kelly? But how embarrassing for them that the horror pic opened to only $3M Friday and $3.2M Saturday from 2,635 dates for just a $7.8M weekend. Ouch!

The rest of the Top 10 were holdovers:

7. Couples Retreat (Universal) Wkd $6.4M [2,857 runs] Cume $95.9M
8. Law Abiding Citizen (Overture) Wkd $6.1 [2,474] Cume $60.8M
9. Where The Wild Things Are (WB) Wkd $4.2M [2,756] Cume $69.2M
10. Astro Boy (Imagi/Summit) Wkd $2.5M [1,918] Cume $15M

precious posterAlso opening Friday was the Oscar-buzzed Precious: Based On The Novel “Push” By Sapphire. Platforming in 18 theaters in 4 markets — NY, LA, Atlanta, and Chicago — consisting of arthouses and primarily African-American neighborhood venues. I’m told the debut numbers are outstanding because of all the advance publicity — $585K for Friday and $699K Saturday, with a per screen average of $32,500 Friday that was $100,000 after Sunday, for a $1.8M weekend. Starting with its attention-grabbing debut at the Sundance Film Festival last January, this powerful film adapted by Geoffrey Fletcher from a novel about an illiterate black Harlem teen whose father has raped and impregnated her twice was embraced by no less than Tyler Perry, which is why it landed with Lionsgate for distribution, and Oprah Winfrey. Both came on as executive producers, unusual because they had no hand in the actual production of Precious and will be donating all their proceeds to charity, because of their personal experiences with family abuse and dysfunction. The result is they personally brought the film to the Toronto Film Festival and its official premiere at AFI Fest 2009 last Sunday. Also pumping up the film’s profile are the presence of Mo’Nique, Sidibe, and Mariah Carey in the cast. And, covering all its political bases, Lionsgate arranged for George H.W. Bush and wife Barbara to host a Houston screening last Wednesday. Now comes an aggressive campaign for outspoken Lee Daniels’ Best Picture Oscar with Precious expanding to 5 markets next week and wider on November 20th.

Other openers on the specialty side include Hal Holbrook starrer That Evening Sun, which Freestyle opened in one theater in New York, La Danse: Le Ballet de L’Opera de Paris also debuting in a lone venue by Zipporah Films, and the South African thriller Endgame opened by Monterey Media in one New York venue. And Splinterheads opened to a $12,000 per screen average at the Regal Union Square theater in New York. The film will expand on November 13th to Austin and Portland.

For more estimates listed by title, see box office results here...

Editor-in-Chief Nikki Finke - tip her here.

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