December Movie Mania — “Avatar”, “Sherlock” Look Best

November started out quietly, but wound up setting Thanksgiving boxoffice records, making it an overall positive month for Hollywood thanks mostly to Summit Entertainment’s vampire sequel “The Twilight Saga: The New Moon”.

November’s first weekend (Nov. 6-8) saw Disney launch its holiday entry “A Christmas Carol” to what Hollywood handicappers called a disappointing $30.1 million. Disney countered that the film would have great boxoffice legs. By month’s end with “Carol” having taken in about $105 million it was clear that Disney was right.

The second weekend in November (Nov. 13-15) brought a huge opening for Sony’s “2012” with $65.2 million. “A Christmas Carol” held up really well in its second weekend, dropping just 26 percent. With its cume then at $63.3 million it was starting to shape up as a success for Disney.

Weekend three (Nov. 20-22) saw huge boxoffice business thanks to Summit’s launch of “The Twilight Saga: The New Moon” with $142.8 million — an astounding average of $35,497 per theater at 4,024 theaters.

Meanwhile, Warner Bros.’ “The Blind Side” starring Sandra Bullock opened strongly in second place to $34.1 million. It was great counter programming by WB and it paid off a few weeks later when “Blind Side” moved up to capture first place the weekend of Dec. 4-6 with its cume by then at nearly $130 million. Also in weekend three was Sony’s animated “Planet 51”, opening fourth to an okay $12.3 million.

November’s fourth weekend (Nov. 25-29) was the five day Thanksgiving holiday weekend, which turned out to be the biggest Thanksgiving gross since 2000. “New Moon” held on to first place with $42.9 million for the three day weekend (a hefty 70 percent drop from its opening weekend) and $66.3 million for five days, bringing its cume to $230.9 million at that point.

The weekend also saw “The Blind Side” looking strong in second place with $40.1 million for three days and $57.5 million for five days. Its cume through Thanksgiving was $100.2 million.

By the end of November, Hollywood’s revenues were running 8.4 percent ahead of last year, according to Hollywood.Com Box-Office president Paul Dergarabedian. Attendance through November was up 4.3 percent over the prior year.

Looking at November on a weekend by weekend basis, per Dergarabedian, the first weekend (Nov. 6-8) was down 15.5 percent vs. the previous year. Weekend 2 (Nov. 13-15) saw business down 5.7 percent vs. ’08. Weekend 3 (Nov. 20-22) was up a huge 57.3 percent compared to last year. Weekend 4 (Nov. 25-29) saw the five day boxoffice up a solid 16.7 percent from last year.

Overall, it looks like December’s most anticipated film is James Cameron’s 3-D sci-fi epic “Avatar”, opening Dec. 18, which is already tracking through the roof. Also looking good at this early point is Warner Bros.’ action drama “Sherlock Holmes”, opening Dec. 25. Everything else could go either way, although first choice levels for the rest of the holiday films are likely to increase as their opening dates get closer.

The following synopses include details about December’s wide openings, but beware of possible spoilers if you don’t want to know too much in advance. As always, be sure to check out our Zamm Cam movie previews to find out more about the films you most want to see.

December’s first weekend (Dec. 4-6) will see three wide releases kicking the month off. Lionsgate’s war drama “Brothers”, directed by Jim Sheridan (“In America”), has been tracking best, particularly with under-25 females. Starring are: Tobey Maguire, Jake Gyllenhaal, Natalie Portman, Sam Shepard, Clifton Collins, Jr., Mare Winningham, Patrick Flueger, Taylor Geare, Bailee Madison and Carey Mulligan.

The story: A man is sent to fight in Afghanistan while his black-sheep brother becomes caretaker to his wife and child.

Also arriving in December’s first weekend is Sony/Screen Gems’ action drama “Armored”, directed by Nimrod Antal (“Vacancy”), which has been tracking only so-so, doing best with males under 25. Starring are: Matt Dillon, Jean Reno, Laurence Fishburne, Amaury Nolasco, Milo Ventimiglia, Skeet Ulrich, Columbus Short, Andrew Jamal Kinney and Fred Ward.

The story: A young armored car guard is persuaded by his veteran cohorts to empty the truck of its $10 million.

The weekend’s third wide release is Miramax’s comedy drama “Everybody’s Fine”, written and directed by Kirk Jones (“Nanny McPhee”). It’s tracking has been anything but fine, with its strongest appeal to women over 25. Starring are: Robert De Niro, Drew Barrymore, Kate Beckinsale, Sam Rockwell and Ben Schwartz.

The story: A widower, who realizes his wife was his only connection to his kids, sets off on an impromptu bus ride to reunite with his four grown children.

December’s second weekend (Dec. 11-13) will bring only two wide releases. Disney’s animated feature “The Princess and the Frog” is directed by Ron Clements and John Musker and has been tracking okay but not great. Its voice talents include: Oprah Winfrey, Anika Noni Rose, Keith David, Bruno Campos, John Goodman, Jenifer Lewis, Ritchie Montgomery and Jennifer Cody. Because the film is classic Disney 2-D animation rather than today’s 3-D format, it will be interesting to see if family audiences respond to it the way they have been to animated 3-D releases.

“The Princess and the Frog” (L-R) Frog Naveen, Pricess Tiana © Disney Enterprises. All Rights Reserved.

“The Princess and the Frog” (L-R) Frog Naveen, Pricess Tiana © Disney Enterprises. All Rights Reserved.

Also opening this weekend but not competing for the same audience as “Princess” is Warner Bros.’ drama “Invictus” directed by Clint Eastwood, which has been tracking quietly and doing best with under-25 males. Starring are: Morgan Freeman, Matt Damon and Scott Eastwood.

The story: The inspiring true story of how Nelson Mandela (Morgan Freeman) joined forces with the captain of South Africa’s rugby team, Francois Pienaar (Matt Damon), to help unite their country. Newly elected President Mandela knows his nation remains racially and economically divided in the wake of apartheid. Believing he can bring his people together through the universal language of sport, Mandela rallies South Africa’s underdog rugby team as they make an unlikely run to the 1995 World Cup Championship match.

December’s weekend three (Dec. 18-20) will see two wide releases competing for moviegoers’ time and money, but fortunately they’re targeted to very different audiences. Of these, the film that looms as a boxoffice giant is Fox’s 3-D sci-fi action adventure fantasy “Avatar”, written and directed by James Cameron (“Titanic”). It’s been tracking through the roof with men under and over 25.

Starring are: Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, Sigourney Weaver, Joel Moore, CCH Pounder, Peter Mensah, Laz Alonso, Wes Studi, Stephen Lang, Michelle Rodriguez, Giovanni Ribisi, Matt Gerald and Dileep Rao.

The story: A wounded ex-marine, thrust unwillingly into an effort to settle and exploit an exotic planet rich in bio-diversity, eventually crosses over to lead the indigenous race in a battle for survival.

The weekend’s second wide release is Sony’s romantic comedy “Did You Hear About the Morgans?”. Written and directed by Marc Lawrence (“Two Weeks Notice”), it stars Hugh Grant, Sarah Jessica Parker, Sam Elliott, Mary Steenburgen, Elisabeth Moss, Michael Kelly and Wilford Brimley. Its tracking very quietly at this point and doing best with women under and over 25.

The story: After witnessing a murder, an estranged, high-powered New York couple are placed in the witness protection program. They end up in a small Wyoming town where they must learn to co-exist with the locals.

December’s last weekend (Dec. 23-27) is the extended Christmas weekend and is crowded with five wide releases hoping to benefit from the expansion in moviegoing that makes the week between Christmas and New Year’s one of the year’s top moviegoing periods.

Fox is launching its animated family comedy “Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel” Wed., Dec. 23 to get the jump on the holiday period. Directed by Betty Thomas (“John Tucker Must Die”), it stars the voice talents of Justin Long, Matthew Gray Gubler, Jesse McCartney, Wendie Malick, David Cross, Jason Lee and Christina Applegate. “Alvin’s” been tracking nicely, especially with women over 25. For family films that’s the moms-with-kids audience and the most important one to appeal to.

The story: This sequel introduces the Chipmunks’ female counterparts, the Chipettes.

Christmas Day will see four wide releases going after moviegoers. The stand-out hit is likely to be Warner Bros.’ action adventure take on the legendary “Sherlock Holmes”. Directed by Guy Ritchie (“RocknRolla”), it stars Robert Downey Jr., Jude Law, Rachel McAdams, Mark Strong, Eddie Marsan and Kelly Reilly. It’s been tracking very strongly, scoring best with 25+ males and second best with males under 25.

“Sherlock Holmes” in theaters December 25

“Sherlock Holmes” in theaters December 25

The story: In a dynamic new portrayal of Arthur Conan Doyle’s most famous characters, “Sherlock Holmes” sends Holmes and his stalwart partner Watson on their latest challenge. Revealing fighting skills as lethal as his legendary intellect, Holmes will battle as never before to bring down a new nemesis and unravel a deadly plot that could destroy the country.

Universal’s romantic comedy “It’s Complicated”, also opening Dec. 25, is appealing mostly to adult women. While it’s not tracking nearly as well as “Sherlock Holmes”, it could do well if women drag their husbands and boyfriends to see it. Directed by Nancy Meyers (“Something’s Gotta Give”), it stars Meryl Streep, Steve Martin, Alec Baldwin, Zoe Kazan, Lake Bell, Hunter Parrish, John Krasinski, Nora Dunn, Rita Wilson, Caitlin Fitzgerald and Daryl Sabara.

The story: Jane (Meryl Streep) runs a successful bakery and restaurant, but is experiencing empty nest syndrome. She finds herself romantically split between her ex-husband (Alec Baldwin) and her friend (Steve Martin) who is an architect.

Christmas Day will also bring moviegoers The Weinstein Company’s musical drama “Nine”, directed by Rob Marshall (“Chicago”) and starring Daniel Day-Lewis, Penelope Cruz, Nicole Kidman, Marion Cotillard, Kate Hudson, Sophia Loren, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Judi Dench, and Stacy “Fergie” Ferguson. It hasn’t been tracking strongly, but looks strongest with women over 25. “Nine” could benefit from feeling like the right kind of movie for people to see over the Christmas holiday period.

The story: Loosely inspired by Fellini’s movie “8 1/2”, it focuses on a film director stuck in neutral as he tries to make a movie while haunted by the demands of all the women in his life, including his wife, mistress and even his deceased mother.

“Up In the Air” arriving to theaters December 25

“Up In the Air” arriving to theaters December 25

Rounding out the Christmas movie slate is Paramount’s wide release of “Up in the Air”, which opened strongly in limited release in early December and then began expanding. Directed by Jason Reitman (“Juno”), it stars George Clooney, Vera Farmiga, Anna Kendrick, Danny McBride (II), Jason Bateman, Tamala Jones, Chris Lowell, Adam Rose, Melanie Lynskey and Zach Galifianakis. While its tracking hasn’t been huge at this point, it’s doing best with women under 25 and next best with men under 25, two very good audiences to appeal to.

The story: A ruthless human-resource executive, whose job is to fire people, looks forward to the only joy he has in life, achieving his millionth frequent flyer mile, a goal he pursues with zeal as the rest of his life falls apart around him because he is constantly on the road.