Mish Imp 4 Cruises on a Very Merry Day After Christmas

The box office sprang back to life on Boxing Day, with Tom Cruise's action adventure and Steven Spielberg's War Horse as the prime winners

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Paramount Pictures

Tom Cruise in Mission Impossible - Ghost Protocol

’Twas the day after Christmas, and through all movie houses, / The big features were purring, attracting great crowdses. …

Santa waited until Dec. 26 to give Hollywood moguls the present they’d been dreaming of: box-office gold. Because Christmas Eve fell on Saturday this year, what is typically the strongest day of the week was among the most anemic. But many films saw their business double on Christmas Day—because, really, there’s no better way to celebrate Jesus’s birth than to go see a Tom Cruise movie—then leap again on Boxing Day. While some of the most diligent B.O. stats mavens took time off for the holidays (Deadline Hollywood’s Nikki Finke posted this “MONDAY AM ADVISORY: Due to a shopping emergency, box office will be updated after noon”), film revelers packed the multiplexes. The Sunday and Monday grosses didn’t come close to redeeming the severe slump in film revenue, which is still 5% below last year at this time. But they did give hope to such new releases as The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and War Horse, as well as salvaging a measure of self-respect for the Sherlock Holmes and Alvin and the Chipmunks sequels.

Cruise’s Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol led the charge with $46.2 million over the Friday-Monday span at North American theaters, according to preliminary studio estimates. The previous weekend, the action-adventure had earned a burly $13.6 million in a limited release on 400 IMAX screens. On Wednesday it went wide and kept soaring. Forgiving or forgetting Cruise’s supposed transgressions of Oprah-couch jumping and Scientology thumping, moviegoers apparently appreciated his efforts as a full-service entertainer — he was the movie’s star, producer and skyscraper-scaling stuntman. The film’s audience, which skewed 61% male, awarded Mish Imp 4 a pearly A-minus CinemaScore. By New Year’s Day, Cruise should have his first vehicle since Mish Imp 3 in 2006 to earn more than $100-million at the domestic box office.

(READ: TIME’s Review of Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol)

In the oddly similar ads for MI:4 and Dragon Tattoo, the leading players stare out at the viewer in matching cowls and scowls. Rooney Mara, who plays the haunted hacker Lisbeth Salander in DT, is no Cruise; neither is the movie’s male star, Daniel Craig. And though the film is based on the Stieg Larsson novel that sold 43 million copies around the world, a book’s popularity rarely transfers to blockbuster movie numbers, especially when its audience is grownups, not the kids and young adults who made the Harry Potter and Twilight series multimedia phenomena. David Fincher’s R-rated Tattoo must also compete with the recent memory, for some moviegoers here and millions abroad, of the Swedish films made from the Larsson thrillers; the original Tattoo movie, with Noomi Rapace as Lisbeth, earned more than $100 million worldwide. The Fincher version amassed $27.8 million since its Tue. evening debut. Whether the film will justify Sony’s investment is a mystery that won’t be resolved until the New Year.

For the first time in nearly 30 years—since Poltergeist and E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial back in June 1982—two Steven Spielberg movies had their U.S. premieres within a week of each other. The Adventures of Tintin, based on the long-ago Hergé comic books, finally opened here on Wednesday, after grossing $240 million abroad, where Tintin is a widely loved icon. To American audiences, though, he is barely known, so the 3-D motion-capture movie, which took in $24.1 million over its first six days, will need to lure young and older filmgoers on the strength of Spielberg’s marquee name and its nonstop comic inventiveness and expertise.

War Horse, the director’s other no-star offering of the season, stands a better chance of doing truly Spielbergian business. This live-action, 2-D love story of a boy and his horse separated on the battlefields of World War I, opened Sunday to an imposing $7.5 million, which it duplicated on Monday. Aimed at tweens and their parents, War Horse could eventually be the top hit released this Christmas week.

(READ: War Horse: Spielberg’s Searing, Splendid Christmas Gift)

Kris Kringle gave Yuletide reprieves to two holdovers, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows and Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked — boosting their two-week totals to $90.6 million and $57 million, respectively — and played Bad Santa to just two new movies. We Bought a Zoo, a true-life inspirational drama starring Matt Damon and directed by Cameron Crowe, managed just $15.6 million in four days, barely more than War Horse grossed in two. And the apocalyptic action film The Darkest Hour scrounged a measly $5.5 million from its Sunday and Monday playdates.

In specialized activity, Stephen Daldry’s Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, a post-9/11 drama with Tom Hanks and Sandra Bullock as the big names, opened Sunday in six theaters and earned an encouraging $137,000 for the two days. Wim Wenders’ Pina, a 3-D documentary of the Pina Bausch dance troupe, enjoyed an opening worth an ecstatic plié: $88,399 at just three New York City theaters. The movie goes wider early next year. Angelina Jolie’s directorial debut, the Bosnian-set In the Land of Blood and Honey, had a dour debut, earning $27,827 at four venues. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, the movie adaptation of the John Le Carré espionage thriller, moved onto 55 screens and grossed a stealthy $1.2 million, lifting its three-week total to $1.8 million. The Artist, the “silent” comedy that has already copped numerous best-film awards from the critics, expanded from 17 to 167 theaters with a $1.4-million take. It has earned $2.9 million so far, and has eyes on breaking into the mainstream and eventually winning the Oscar for Best Picture. Anyway, that’s the dream of that roly-poly indie Santa, Harvey Weinstein.

…And I heard him exclaim as he rode with his elves, / “Here’s to the most boffo of two-thousand-twelves!”

(LIST: The All-TIME 100 Movies)

Here are the three-day (Friday-Sunday) and four-day (Friday-Monday) estimates for the Christmas weekend’s top-grossing pictures in North American theaters, as reported by Box Office Mojo:

  1. Mission: Impossible—Ghost Protocol, $29.5 million, three days; $46.2 million, four days; $78.6 million, second week
  2. Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, $20.2 million, three days; $31.8 million, four days; $90.6 million, second week
  3. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (opened Tue.) $12.75 million, three days; $19.4 million, four days; $27.8 million, first seven days
  4. Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked, $12.65 million, three days; $20 million, four days; $57 million, second week
  5. The Adventures of Tintin (opened Wed.), $9.7 million, three days; $16.1 million, four days; $24.1 million, first six days
  6. We Bought a Zoo (opened Fri.), $9.4 million, three days; $15.6 million, first four days
  7. War Horse (opened Sun.), $7.5 million, first day; $15 million, first two days
  8. New Year’s Eve, $3 million, three days; $5.2 million, four days; $32.7 million, third week
  9. The Darkest Hour (opened Sun.), $3 million, first day; $5.5 million, first two days
  10. The Muppets, $2.1 million, three days; $2.7 million, four days; $76.9 million, sixth week