Friday night it was Jimmy Kimmel's turn to host the young stars of The Twilight Saga: New Moon: Kristen Stewart (Bella Swan), Taylor Lautner (Jacob Black) and Robert Pattinson (Edward Cullen, as if you didn't know). The audible rapture of the studio audience, in large part female, stirred Kimmel to that now-familiar remark, "Not since the Beatles..." The crowd swooned when Pattinson, asked if he'd been injured doing any of the movie's stunts, acknowledged, "I strained one of my ass-cheeks." When the ladies had a chance to ask questions, the ones directed to the men were mostly shirt-related. "Rob, is your shirt misbuttoning a fashion statement, or just carelessness?" "Taylor, would you take off your shirt and give it to me?"
The Kimmel audience must have been among the few Twilight Saga fans who didn't give the shirts off their backs to see the second installment in the planned quartet of movies based on the Stephenie Meyer novels about a teen girl's love with the proper vampire. With its $72.7 million Friday take more than its predecessor, last year's Twilight, earned in its first full weekend New Moon set a one-day record for the North American box office. By tonight, according to studio estimates, it will have earned $140.7 million, which makes the film a prime mover in what could be, according to Variety, "the second-best weekend ever at the domestic B.O. in terms of overall ticket sales." And not on a holiday. And not in summer. As one noted journalist observed, on hearing these numbers, "Wow."
That $140.7 million would also make New Moon the third hottest opener in movie history, after those predictable summer attractions The Dark Knight and Spider-man 3. Please note that the core demographic for those two smashes were young males who love comics; this one became a smash because of girls who read books. The supersmash status of New Moon shows that women can make megahits, and that, as with Harry Potter, a beloved book franchise can translate to widely and wildly popular movies.
The New Moon madness began with a thunderclap: it earned $26.2 million just in its midnight-Thursday shows. This was another new record, and it exceeded the entire weekend gross of five of the No. 1 pictures of autumn: Tyler Perry's I Can Do Bad All By Myself, Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs (in its second frame in the top slot), Michael Jackson's This Is It, Paranormal Activity and the horror comedy Zombieland. That last stat should end, for now, the question of whether zombies are the new vampires. These days, with Wolverine hogging DVD shelves and Jason's hirsute brethren commandeering the mall marquees, it's werewolves who will give our fanged friends the biggest battle for a young lady's affections.
The size of New Moon's boodle left the industry's box-office handicappers flummoxed. Like crazed billionaires trying to outbid one another for an evening with Angelina Jolie, they kept jacking up their weekend estimates as New Moon broke record upon record, day by day. On Thursday the smart money was on a $100 million opening; on Friday the ante was raised to $120 million, and on Saturday they finally got it right. Of course, the $140.7 million is simply another estimate: Summit Pictures' Sunday-morning guess at Sunday evening's take. The real number, released tomorrow afternoon, could be much higher or much lower all of which underlines the validity of screenwriter William Goldman's dictum that, in Hollywood, "Nobody knows anything."
If New Moon had not existed well, many young hearts would be broken, but also, the big news would have been the $34.5 million racked up by the true-life inspirational sports drama The Blind Side. Based on another book (Michael Lewis's bio of Michael Oher, a troubled black youth, adopted by a white couple, who became a college football star and NFL rookie), The Blind Side would have won the box-office race almost any other fall weekend, and gave Sandra Bullock the biggest opening of her career. Also impressive was the $11 million amassed by the African-American drama Precious in only 629 theaters. (New Moon played on 4,024 screens.) Precious now looks to join Paranormal Activity as the year's top indie hits, and should have sturdy legs right up to Oscar night.
For now, though, New Moon is the big news. The international grosses will also be massive. The first film earned $192.7 million in North America and almost exactly the same abroad. The worldwide five-day total for New Moon (which opened two days earlier abroad) is already at $258.8 million; expect a final worldwide gross to near $700 million. The thing's a phenomenon, and all the analysis of its popularity can't explain or diminish it. Sometimes the best strategy for canny film people is to step out of the way and let a hurricane sweep by. Nobody knows anything, except the customers. And you could bet your shirt on that.
Here are the weekend's top-grossing pictures in North American theaters, as reported by Box Office Mojo.com:
1. The Twilight Saga: New Moon, $140.7 million, first weekend
2. The Blind Side, $34.5 million, first weekend
3. 2012, $26.5 million; $108.2 million, second week
4. Planet 51, $12.6 million, first weekend
5. Disney's A Christmas Carol, $12.2 million; $79.8 million, third week
6. Precious, Based on the Novel "Push" By Sapphire, $11 million; $21,4 million, third week
7. The Men Who Stare at Goats, $2.8 million; $27.6 million, third week
8. Couples Retreat, $2 million; $105 million, seventh week
9. The Fourth Kind, $1.7 million; $23.3 million, third week
10. Law Abiding Citizen, $1.6 million; $70 million, sixth week