Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince may have exited the pre-Thanksgiving weekend for warmer climes, but two sizable pictures filled the vacancy. Vampire romance Twilight flits onto around 6,000 screens at 3,419 theaters, while computer-animated comedy Bolt zips onto approximately 5,300 screens at 3,651 theaters. Holdover Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa remains the widest release on around 6,100 screens at 4,007 venues, and last weekend's top grosser, Quantum of Solace, holds onto around 5,800 screens at 3,458 venues.
In early showings starting at midnight, Twilight posted blistering returns, grossing over $7 million. The picture had been buzzed about for months, and, thus far, the earnings have lived up to the hype. For perspective, Twilight's early Friday grosses tripled Quantum of Solace at the same point, but bear in mind that these movies cater to different audiences, and different audiences mean different gross patterns. Twilight's primary demographics are young and female, and the last event movie for women, the older-skewing Sex and the City, earned around $2.5 million in its early midnight shows, and tallied $57 million by the end of its first weekend. Twilight is distributed by Summit Entertainment, which previously had success with young females as a producer of the Step Up movies.
Produced for $37 million, Twilight is based on the first of a popular series of four novels by Stephenie Meyer. While they haven't reached the Harry Potter level of cultural saturation, they have been a legitimate sales success. The media attention hasn't been all hype. The fourth book, Breaking Dawn, sold 1.3 million copies in its first day alone last August, and that week, Twilight the novel, had its highest week yet, selling 120,000 copies. Reportedly, the series has sold over eight million copies domestically and another nine million overseas. Further portending success, Twilight's soundtrack debuted at No. 1 in sales, the first time that's happened since 8 Mile in 2002, and has moved a substantial 272,000 units in its first two weeks, prior to the movie's opening.
In recent years, vampires haven't been the stuff of blockbusters, but the ones containing romantic themes have fared best. Twilight's closest antecedent may be Interview with the Vampire, which was based on a famous novel (by Anne Rice) and featured a fresh actor that women responded favorably to (Brad Pitt), like Twilight's Robert Pattinson. Back in November 1994, Interview set the record for highest-grossing opening for an R-rated movie, drawing $36.4 million at 2,604 locations. Adjusted for ticket price inflation, that would equal around $62 million today. In November 1992, Bram Stoker's Dracula had a big debut as well, making $30.5 million or around $52 million adjusted, and the Underworld movies have also been popular. Preceding Twilight on television, two vampire romances developed ardent followings: CBS' similarly-titled but canceled Moonlight and HBO's current True Blood. What's more, from its midnight shows alone, Twilight has already out-grossed the similar novel-based Blood and Chocolate, a werewolf romance that made a limp $3.5 million in its entire run.
Meanwhile, Walt Disney Pictures' Bolt inhabits a pre-Thanksgiving slot that has worked well for family movies in the past, including several Harry Potter movies, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, National Treasure and Happy Feet. "Historically, family movies perform well on Thanksgiving," said Chuck Viane, Disney's president of distribution. "Originally, we were on Wednesday (Nov. 26) and then Harry Potter moved off the 21st. So why pass the opportunity to have two great weekends? We hope to get off to a competitive start and then duplicate that next weekend."
Last weekend, Disney sneaked Bolt at 840 sites, playing to 75 percent capacity and scoring a 93 percent "excellent" and "very good" rating from moviegoers the studio polled. One of the major selling points for Bolt is its presentation in 3-D. To that end, Disney, which has been an industry leader in the format, has booked 982 theaters, the widest 3-D release yet. "Everytime anyone releases a 3-D movie, it sets a new record because there are more and more installations," noted Mr. Viane, who added that the key appeal of 3-D is the enhanced moviegoing experience and, hence, greater word-of-mouth.
Disney struck 3-D gold earlier this year with Hannah Montana/Miley Cyrus: Best of Both Worlds Concert Tour, which opened to $31.1 million at 683 venues. The highest grossing movie in this new era of 3-D is Journey to the Center of the Earth, which saw two thirds of its $101.6 million gross come from 3-D presentations; on its opening weekend alone, its 854 3-D theaters grossed $11.7 million or 56 percent of the weekend total. Among recent animated features, Beowulf and Meet the Robinsons had 3-D presentations accounting for nearly 30 percent of their openings, from far fewer 3-D theaters than Bolt.
Mr. Viane believes that Bolt's blend of comedy and adventure, and people's universal love of animals and stories of bonding traveling companions will satisfy audiences. "People are looking for the ability to sit back relax, smile and feel good with no heavy message. This is one of those movies," Viane said.