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‘Muppets’ expected to rule slow weekend

Amy Kaufman
Los Angeles Times (MCT)

LOS ANGELES — After a glut of family films opened over the Thanksgiving holiday, no new movies are slated to hit theaters nationwide this weekend — leaving a clan of felt “Muppets” to rule the box office.

The post-Turkey Day weekend has traditionally been one of the slowest moviegoing periods of the year, as Americans emerge from their tryptophan-induced hazes and begin their holiday shopping.

In 2010, it was the second-lowest-grossing weekend of the year, according to Box Office Mojo.

This weekend, Walt Disney Studios’ modern spin on “The Muppets” is expected to ring up about $20 million in ticket sales, according to those who have seen pre-release audience surveys. The film got off to a respectable start over the five-day holiday with $41.5 million and should benefit from strong word of mouth.

Audiences who saw the well-reviewed picture praised it with an average grade A, according to market research firm CinemaScore.

The other family movies that opened Thanksgiving — “Hugo” and “Arthur Christmas” — will have to battle the popular sequel “The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn — Part 1” for runner-up honors this weekend. The fourth vampire film in the successful franchise has so far collected nearly $230 million in the U.S. and almost $290 million more overseas.

As for “Arthur Christmas,” despite its weak opening of just $16.3 million over five days, Sony Pictures is hopeful the movie will hold up well as Christmas approaches.

The film has been beloved by critics, and audiences assigned it a CinemaScore of A-minus, but it still remains to be seen whether that buzz will translate into stronger ticket sales.

Sony believes that the animated 3-D flick, which cost about $100 million to produce, has the potential to follow in the footsteps of 2004’s family film “The Polar Express,” but that may be wishful thinking. That movie had a soft opening but ultimately grossed nearly $200 million domestically — a rare feat.

“Hugo,” meanwhile, will expand from 1,277 theaters to more than 1,800 this weekend. Over the five-day holiday, the pricey 3-D movie directed by Martin Scorsese started off with just $15.4 million.

But Paramount Pictures, which is distributing the movie based on the children’s book “The Invention of Hugo Cabret,” decided to roll out the movie slowly in an attempt to capitalize on the film’s critical acclaim. On Thursday, “Hugo” was named best film of the year by the National Board of Review.

Although last year’s Oscar-winning “The King’s Speech” followed a similar trajectory — expanding its run as it drew awards attention — that film was far less expensive to produce.

“Hugo” cost independent producer Graham King between $150 million and $170 million to make, and tens of millions of additional dollars are being spent to market and distribute the picture.

In limited release, Fox Searchlight will open the NC-17-rated drama “Shame” in nine theaters in five cities this weekend, including Los Angeles, New York and Chicago.

The critically lauded adult drama, starring Michael Fassbender as a sex addict, is the first NC-17-rated film to be released nationally since Ang Lee’s “Lust, Caution” in 2007. That movie ended up grossing $4.6 million, slightly more than the $2.5 million that Bernardo Bertolucci’s NC-17-rated “The Dreamers” collected in 2004.

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