LOS ANGELES - Everyone wants to be home for the holidays, and this weekend moviegoers agreed.
Five new releases failed to draw audiences to the multiplex in droves, as "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey" was the No. 1 film for the second consecutive weekend, collecting an additional $36.7 million, according to an estimate from Warner Bros. The film, which has grossed $149.9 million in North America, saw its ticket sales fall 57 percent from its opening weekend, an average drop for a big-budget tent pole.
Of the new releases, Tom Cruise's action flick "Jack Reacher" fared best - though its $15.6 million debut was soft. Meanwhile, Judd Apatow had the worst opening of his directorial career by far with his comedy "This Is 40," which started with an unimpressive $12 million.
And the news was even worse for two movies that opened Wednesday: "The Guilt Trip" and a 3-D version of "Monsters, Inc." The Barbra Streisand-Seth Rogen road trip comedy tanked with just $7.4 million over five days, while the updated version of the animated kids movie sold a weak $6.5 million worth of tickets during the same period.
"Cirque du Soleil: Worlds Away," a 3-D event film based on the popular stage productions, played only twice per day over the weekend in about 800 theaters, but nonetheless its $2.3 million gross was disappointing.
As a result of the lackluster business, ticket sales were down 13 percent compared with the same weekend last year. Still, 2012 should end on a positive note, because receipts and attendance are up about 5 percent compared with 2011.
The weekend's new films will face additional competition on Christmas Day, when Quentin Tarantino's "Django Unchained," the musical "Les Miserables" and the family film "Parental Guidance" hit theaters. However, movies that open the weekend before Christmas often hold up well in theaters, because families are looking for things to do between the holiday and New Year's.
"Jack Reacher" stands to benefit from positive word of mouth, because the movie was the best received of any of the weekend's new releases. Though the film earned only middling critical reviews, audiences assigned it an average grade of A-minus, according to market research firm CinemaScore.
In "Jack Reacher," Cruise plays a man on a mission to find the criminal behind a deadly shooting spree. The story is based on Lee Child's best-selling "Jack Reacher" series of novels, whose protagonist is a burly, tall, blond ex-soldier - far from Cruise's 5-foot-7 stature.
The movie, co-financed by Paramount Pictures and Skydance Productions for roughly $60 million, will need to rack up additional ticket sales not only in the United States but also abroad to become a success. Cruise hasn't had a good year with domestic moviegoers, because his star-studded musical "Rock of Ages" tanked with $38.5 million. Fortunately for the actor, international audiences still seem enamored with the 50-year-old star: His last three action movies all grossed more overseas than they did in the United States and Canada.
This past weekend, the film debuted in seven small international territories, including Turkey and Singapore, and grossed $2.5 million.
"Internationally, this is a movie that will probably do 50 percent to 100 percent better than in the U.S.," said Megan Colligan, Paramount's president of domestic distribution. "Internationally, there is still such a thing as star vehicles. People come out solely to see their favorite stars, and the U.S. audience has become more discerning about that."
As for "This Is 40," the comedy co-starring Apatow's wife, Leslie Mann, and Paul Rudd started with far less than even the filmmaker's most recent disappointing performer, "Funny People." That 2009 film launched with $22.7 million and ultimately collected $51.9 million.
With its B-minus CinemaScore, "This Is 40" will have to work hard to reach that total. The movie, produced by Universal Pictures for $35 million, is loosely based on Apatow's own marriage with Mann. The film attracted more women than men, because the opening weekend crowd was 57 percent female, and roughly 50 percent were 30 and older.
Nikki Rocco, Universal's president of domestic distribution, insisted she was pleased with the film's opening weekend because she believes the movie will play well in the coming weeks.
"You couldn't get within the vicinity of a shopping mall this weekend. It's a busy one for adults," she said Sunday. "There's no way Judd has lost anything, in my perspective."
Rogen, Apatow's frequent collaborator, also had a rough weekend. Moviegoers weren't interested in seeing the 30-year-old actor go on a cross-country trip with the 70-year-old Streisand and gave the critically reviled comedy an average grade of B-minus. The film, co-financed by Paramount and Skydance, had a budget of about $40 million.
"The Guilt Trip" marks Streisand's first leading role since 1996's "The Mirror Has Two Faces," though she had supporting parts in two "Meet the Fockers" films. The performer has focused more on her singing career over the last decade. Still, Streisand seemed to be more of a draw than Rogen, because 80 percent of those who went to see the pair's new movie were 25 and older.
Heading into the weekend, "Monsters, Inc." was expected to trounce "The Guilt Trip," the theory being that even though it's a re-release, there are few movies in the marketplace for young children. But of the four animated movies that Walt Disney Studios has now re-released in 3-D, "Monsters, Inc." has done the worst by far.
Paramount decided to open the "Cirque" film in limited release to spread buzz about the movie before Christmas, when showtimes will run all day long. Produced by 3-D expert James Cameron, the $18 million film was not financed by the studio, which is distributing it. The fictional tale includes the trademark acrobatics included in many of Cirque's most popular productions.
"We wanted to impart that this was a unique and exclusive event," said Paramount's Colligan, adding that the movie is playing particularly well in suburban areas. "And now there are excellent pre-sale results for Christmas Day, which shows that these paid sneak previews really helped to juice things."