SUNDAY 7 AM, 6TH UPDATE (Top Ten grosses below) Total moviegoing this weekend is $138.3M, which is a healthy +21% from last year. The good news is that as Hurricane Sandy recovery continued, Saturday became a big attendance day. Going into this weekend, less than 100 movie theaters on the East Coast remained off the grid on Friday. But that number went down as the power came on. The even better news was that NYC biz in particular was very strong – despite continuing transportation problems but because of cabin fever. ”Clearly, folks need and have an escape valve from the misery of Sandy – namely the movies,” one top distribution exec tells me.

Overall weekend domestic box office was led by Disney’s well-reviewed 3D blockbuster Wreck-It Ralph (playing in  3,752 theaters) whose gross went up a huge +58% from Friday to Saturday for an expected $50.0M through Sunday. It’s the biggest non-holiday opening for a Disney Animation Studios title. Clearly here’s a brand new original franchise for the Mouse House. This action toon went into Friday accounting for 20% of all online ticket sales at Fandango and MovieTickets. Yet there was some flopsweat by Disney not just because of the storm variable but because family tracking has been unreliable of late. (Remember Frankenweenie, anyone?) “I think they’re going to get enough teens to supplement the family audience and pop a real number,” a rival studio exec told me ahead of time. Pic did. Audiences gave Wreck-It Ralph an ‘A’ Cinemascore which should bode well for positive word of mouth and playability through the Thanksgiving holiday as there is little family competition in the marketplace until then.  The toon infused from 30-plus years of video game history so target audience wasn’t just kids but also adults and game enthusiasts as well as males and females. (I always think the movie industry doesn’t understand how many gals play video games…) Fix-It Felix Jr classic-style game consoles toured the country, with stops at Comic-Con, gamer-focused events like Classic Gaming Expo and PAX Prime, as well as colleges, family events, Disney Parks, etc. The trailer debuted at E3 in June while the film itself had a strong presence at Comic-Con in July, including a Hall H panel with director Rich Moore and voice cast John C. Reilly and Sarah Silverman. As for its marketing campaign, Wreck-It Ralph had a huge Olympic integration, plus promotional partnerships with Subway, Nesquik, Gamefly, Netgear, Costco, and Lego. Global press junket in mid-October featured immersive experiences in the game’s worlds, followed by a special gaming press day in San Francisco in conjunction with Sega, Disney Mobile and Activision. The world premiere was held at the El Capitan Theatre on October 29. For animation fans and cinephiles, toon is playing in theaters with Paperman, a black-and-white 3D short film that features an innovative new hybrid of hand-drawn and CG animation.

Of course the Disney family fare swamped this weekend’s other newcomers which are debuting in only 1/2 as many theaters. But Paramount’s well-reviewed Flight (1,900 locations) enjoyed a +31% bump from Friday to Saturday and opened #2 with a surprise $25M this weekend. That’s enormous considering its medium theater count. Just think how many stars can’t even open pics to $20M with 3,000+ theaters. But Denzel Washington has a very loyal adult fanbase, and the pic from credited screenwriter John Gatins had good reviews despite (or because of) a bleak back half. Expectedly, movie  is very soft with teens. But it received an ’A-’ CinemaScore which will help keep it overperforming tracking and stirring Oscar buzz. It’s certainly been a while since director Robert Zemeckis had a hit like this. Even better for Paramount, which has only released one live action pic since May (Paranormal Activity 4), is the fact that Flight cost only $31M. “That was the ground rule that everyone bought into.” Paramount gave it a release pattern similar to its 2010′s The Fighter which had a similar budget, dark story and awards chatter. As for marketing, Paramount launched the Flight trailer in June on Prometheus. “Our strategy was to aim our efforts at sophisticated moviegoers and have a strong push for men and African Americans,” a studio exec explains to me. Flight campaign kicked off for all four presidential debates’ TV coverage. That early awareness stunt led to an exclusive promotion on CBS. A heavy African-American push was made on BET, VH1 and urban radio) as well as VH1′s Basketball Wives whose reality cast screened the film and waxed enthusiastically about Denzel in a promotional spot. Of course there were big sports buys and lots of media. Flight had its world premiere Closing Night of the New York Film Festival on October 14th. Then Paramount and EPIX hosted an encore presentation in New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles with audiences on the West Coast participating in a Q&A with Zemeckis, Washington, Don Cheadle, and John Goodman. Denzel appeared on Letterman, and Zemeckis on Fallon, for the first time those shows ever broadcast without an audience. Zemeckis also traveled the festival circuit (Chicago International Film Festival, Philadelphia Film Festival). Online, Paramount utilized a Twitter Promoted Trend, reaching 39M unique users in one day then added heavy African American targeting.

With just a 15% drop in its 4th weekend, Ben Afflecks Oscar-buzzed Argo from Warner Bros was mixing it up for #3 and #4 with Universal’s The Man With The Iron Fists (1,868 theaters) whose meh reviews helped sink its debut to a disappointing $8.2M this weekend. But that’s a more optimistic number than other studios’ $7.6M. Pic ended up with only a ‘C+’ CinemaScore which hurt word of mouth: Saturday’s gross was flat from Friday’s. Featuring MMA personality Cung Le, Russell Crowe and Lucy Liu and marking the directorial debut of RZA, he co-wrote with Eli Roth who also produced. But, c’mon, how many times have we seen hip hop artists crash and burn on their big screen projects? But not for lack of trying. ‘Presented by’ Quentin Tarantino, he was the film’s ‘creative godfather’ and marketed the fighting pic directly to the UFC homepage right in the wheelhouse of its target demo. Apparently, that’s a tiny number. Tracking was strongest with older males and ethnic moviegoers; exit polling showed the audience was 64% male vs. 36% female, and 47% aged 30 years and older vs. 53% under age 30. But grosses were on the low range of expectations. Good thing the pic cost only $15M.  Universal explains it gave RZA a chance based on his lifelong kung fu fascination after he served as an on-set apprentice to several filmmakers over the years. The studio calls it “a low-risk project that is more a labor of love for an arriving new film artist than a potential big moneymaker for the studio.” Strike Entertainment’s Marc Abraham and Eric Newman produced. On November 12th, Universal will begin rolling out the film out internationally where it might perform better. The trailer launched with Uni’s Savages in July. The TV campaign kicked off with sponsorships of both the BET Hip Hop Awards and WWE star Dave Bautista’s MMA debut. Promos ran with the release of the new “Assassin’s Creed” video game last Monday. Global street artists created outdoor tearaway posters. The Black Keys collaborated with RZA on “The Baddest Man Alive” soundtrack song and the music video featured movie scenes. RZA visited 10 cities on an extensive PA tour where he performed with fellow members of the Wu Tang Clan and other hip-hop artists. Premieres were hosted in LA and NY. Hispanic outreach included an original Spanish-dub viral video while RZA did press at the Hispanic-owed Martial Arts History Museum in Burbank. African-American digital outreach placed RZA on Snoop Dogg’s YouTube channel. Partnerships with Machinima, Global Grind, UFC, IGN and Spotify created online awareness. An animated prequel was created by artist Eric Calderon and voiced by RZA.

The Wachowskis’ $100M-budget holdover Cloud Atlas distributed by Warner Bros remains a complete flop.

Here’s the Top Ten based on weekend estimates:

1. Wreck-It Ralph 3D (Disney) NEW [Runs 3,752] PG
Friday $13.4M, Saturday $21.2M, Weekend $50.0M

2. Flight (Paramount) NEW [Runs 1,900] R
Friday $8.0M, Saturday $10.6M, Weekend $25.0M

3. Argo (Warner Bros) Week 4 [Runs 2,774] R
Friday $2.9M, Saturday $4.8M, Weekend $10.2M, Cume $75.8M

4. The Man With The Iron Fists (Universal) NEW [Runs 1,868] R
Friday $3.0M, Saturday $3.0M, Weekend $8.2M

5. Taken 2 (Fox) Week 5 [Runs 2,639] PG13
Friday $1.8M, Saturday $2.8M, Weekend $6.0M, Cume $125.6M

6. Cloud Atlas (Warner Bros) Week 2 [Runs 2,013] R
Friday $1.5M, Saturday $2.3M, Weekend $5.2M (-45%), Cume $18.2M

7. Hotel Transylvania (Sony) Week 6 [Runs 2,922] PG
Friday $1.1M, Saturday $2.0M, Weekend $4.4M, Cume $137.6M

8. Paranormal Activity (Paramount) Week 3 [Runs 3,006] R
Friday $1.4M, Saturday $1.9M, Weekend $4.3M, Cume $49.5M

9. Here Comes The Boom (Sony) Week 4 [Runs 2,314] PG
Friday $1.0M, Saturday $1.6M, Weekend $3.6M, Cume $35.5M

10. Silent Hill: Revelation (Open Road) Week 2 [Runs 2,933] R
Friday $1.0M, Saturday $1.4M, Weekend $3.1M (-60%), Cume $13.7M

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

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

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