Breaking Dawn to Its Critics: “Bite Me”

With nearly $300 million in three days, the vampire epic proves irresistible to its fans and impregnable to reviewers' scorn

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Summit Entertainment

Bella Swan and her vampire beau Edward Cullen finally Did It, and for Summit Entertainment it was a consummation devoutly to be wished. The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn—Part 1, fourth in the five-part dramatization of the most extended movie courtship ever, earned $139.5 million at North American theaters, according to early studio estimates, to lift the autumn box office out of its prolonged doldrums. In less than three days the bi-species love story streaked past the season’s previous top grossers, Puss in Boots ($122.3 million in its first four weeks) and Paranormal Activity 3 ($102.6 million in five).

(MORE: The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn—Part I. More like Breaking Yawn)

Twi-hards rushed to TWSBD1‘s Thursday midnight shows, which pulled in $30.25 million — more than the full weekend totals of the winning films in nine of the past 14 weeks. Friday’s take, including the midnight runs, was $72 million, for the third highest single-day take in North American plexes, behind the final Harry Potter film and the second Twilight episode, New Moon. The full domestic weekend will be a bit less than the $142.8 million that New Moon pulled in two years ago this weekend. But nobody’s crying poor, since Breaking Dawn 1 snagged another $144 million in 54 foreign territories. That’s $283.5 million in three days, or one of the biggest bites in box-office history.

(MORE: Beware Bella’s Belly: The Top 9 Disturbing Movie Pregnancies)

Under the direction of Dreamgirls‘ Bill Condon, the teen Bella certified her status as a nightmare for critics, who parodied the movie’s title as Breaking Yawn, Breaking Down and Breaking Wind. Reviews monitored by the Rotten Tomatoes aggregate site gave TWSBD1 a wan 27% approval rating. That contumely registered exactly 0% with the movie’s core constituency: the ladies. Fully 80% of this weekend’s audience was female, and half of those over 25 years of age. (The overall CinemaScore was just a B-plus, but women gave the film an A-minus, which suggests that the few men they dragged along hated being there.) If Hollywood fends off a severe recession this year, it will be because moms and their kids have replaced young males as the industry’s go-to demographics.

(MORE: Time Begins to Crawl Backwards’: The 7 Harshest Critics’ Jabs at Breaking Dawn)

Five years ago this weekend, the animated feature Happy Feet opened at the No. 1 spot. This time, the sequel finished a mere $117.5 million behind the front-runner at the domestic box office. In other words, Happy Feet Two was devoured by Sappy Fangs 4.1. Aiming at a similar chunk of the audience — females from six to 60 — the Antarctic penguin musical was clearly second, if that high, on the Movies to See list. Critics, who had lavished a 75% rating on George Miller’s original film, fell out of love with the sequel: the score dropped to 42%. Warner Bros. the movie’s distributor, cautioned that Breaking Dawn 1 had sucked away many of those who might want to catch up later with Happy Feet Two; but when will they do it? In a few days the sequel will be in a much more crowded marketplace for kids’ films, with The Muppets, Arthur Christmas and Hugo opening Wednesday.

(MOREHappy Feet Two: Mr. Miller’s Poppy Penguins Save Their Own Planet)

One of the few new movies aimed at people over the emotional age of 13, The Descendants scooped up the vagrant grownups. Alexander Payne’s semi-comedy, about a Hawaiian land baron (George Clooney) coping with the double-barrel shock of his wife’s mortality and her infidelity, sneaked into the top 10 though playing on only 29 screens. As Indiewire’s Peter Knegt noted, The Descendants‘ $1,222,344 weekend gross gave it a robust $42,150 per-screen average and smartly positions the movie for a long roll-out into Oscar season.

(MOREThe Descendants: George Clooney’s Tragedy in Paradise)

Elsewhere in Indieland, the fall foliage was mostly verdant. Lars von Trier’s Melancholia earned $250,000 in 56 theaters for a 12-day total of $721,682 — better than the earnings for the full run of von Trier’s last film, Antichrist, and not counting the income from Video on Demand, where Melancholia has been available for several weeks. Fans of the film hope that its box-office promise will help spur the chances of star Kirsten Dunst as a finalist in the Best Actress Oscar category.

(MORE: Lars von Trier’s Melancholia: The End of the World as He Knows It)

In longer runs, Kevin Hart’s comedy concert film Laugh at My Pain, the season’s unrivaled indie hit, is close to $8 million; the Zeitgeisty Margin Call is nuzzling the $4-million mark; and Emilio Estevez’s pilgrimage picture The Way (starring his dad Martin Sheen) has exceded $3 million. Like Crazy, the Sundance Grand Jury prize-winner detailing a wayward transatlantic romance, took in $525,000 on 109 screens and has cadged $1.7 million in its fourth week. Another Sundance honoree, Martha Marcy May Marlene, starring Olsen non-twin Elizabeth as a refugee from a religious cult, inched up to a $2.6 million four-week cume. Just below that was the $2.1 million amassed by Pedro Almodóvar’s melodrama The Skin I Live In, with Puss in Boots’ Antonio Banderas as a love-crazed plastic surgeon. Call that film Breaking Face Part 1.

(LIST: All-TIME 100 Movies)

Here are the Sunday estimates of this weekend’s top-grossing pictures in North American theaters, as reported by The Hollywood Reporter and Box Office Mojo:

  1. The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn-Part 1, $139.5 million, first weekend
  2. Happy Feet Two, $22 million, first weekend
  3. Immortals, $12.3 million; $52.9 million, second week
  4. Jack and Jill, $12 million; $41 million, second week
  5. Puss in Boots, $10.7 million; $122.3 million, fourth week
  6. Tower Heist, $7 million; $53.4 million, third week
  7. J. Edgar, $5.9 million; $20.7 million, second week
  8. A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas, $2.9 million; $28.3 million, third week
  9. In Time, $1.7 million; $33.4 million, fourth week
  10. The Descendants, $1.2 million; $1.3 million, first five days
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