LOS ANGELES -- After a slow two weeks for new movies, fresh wide releases dominated the top five at the box office.
Columbia's Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse premiered in first place with $35.4 million, in the range of analyst predictions of $32 million to $39 million, according to figures from measurement firm Comscore.
"I'm extremely pleased with our opening," said Adrian Smith, the studio's president of domestic distribution. "It's a record animated opening of all time for December, and I could not be more pleased."
The film follows the origin story of new Spider-Man Miles Morales, a biracial Brooklynite who assumes the mantle after Peter Parker is killed in battle.
"We are playing to both families and fanboys. We're an all-audience film," Smith said.
The film earned rave reviews with audiences and critics, garnering an A-plus CinemaScore rating and a 97 percent fresh score on review aggregation site Rotten Tomatoes. It even received a pre-release Golden Globe nomination for best animated picture.
"The responses from audiences and critics have been through the roof," Smith said. "The CinemaScore is higher than all of the previous Spider-Man films. We've had great response and with all of the awards nominations we've received, it really speaks to how much people are liking it."
The film has an eight-day runway until the big Christmas releases start packing the multiplexes.
In second place, Warner Bros.' The Mule opened with $17.2 million, in range of analyst predictions of $12 million to $20 million.
Directed by Clint Eastwood (who also stars), the film follows a geriatric drug mule working for a Mexican cartel. It earned an A-minus rating on CinemaScore and a 63 percent fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
"Clint Eastwood has such a big following as a director and a star," said Jeff Goldstein, Warner Bros. president of domestic distribution.
It's Eastwood's first major role in a film since 2012, and the studio is optimistic about the film's longevity into the holiday.
Universal's The Grinch came in at No. 3, adding $11.6 million in its sixth weekend for a cumulative $239.3 million.
At No. 4, Disney's Ralph Breaks the Internet added $9.6 million in its fourth week for a cumulative $154.5 million.
Rounding out the top five, Universal's Mortal Engines debuted with $7.5 million, a disappointing result for the $100 million film. Analysts projected a weak $10 million to $15 million opening.
Mortal Engines was directed by Christian Rivers from a script by Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens, the Oscar-winning trio behind the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit movies.
An adaptation of a young adult novel of the same name, it earned mostly negative reviews with audiences and critics with a 28 percent rotten rating on Rotten Tomatoes. It has taken in an additional $35 million in release overseas.
The studio also expanded Green Book into 34 additional theaters (for a total of 1,215), earning $2.7 million over the weekend and a cumulative $24.6 million.
Fox's Once Upon a Deadpool opened Dec. 12 in 1,566 locations with $2.6 million. A PG-13 version of Deadpool 2, the film brings the sequel's North American cumulative total to $322.3 million.
Sony Classics opened Capernaum with $27,588 on three screens, a per-screen average of $9,196.
Fox Searchlight expanded The Favourite into 348 additional locations in its fourth weekend (for a total of 439), earning $2.6 million, a per-screen average of $5,854, and a cumulative $6.7 million.
Focus Features' Mary Queen of Scots added 62 locations in its second weekend (a total of 66), earning $700,000, a per-screen average of $10,607, and a cumulative $963,000.
Neon's Vox Lux added 319 locations in its second weekend (a total of 325), earning $244,000, a per-screen average of $751 and a cumulative $433,211.
Roadside Attractions' Ben Is Back added 25 locations in its second weekend (a total of 29), earning $145,543, a per-screen average of $5,018 and a cumulative $246,867.
In limited release, Barry Jenkins' James Baldwin adaptation If Beale Street Could Talk opened in four theaters to a very strong $219,173. Jenkins' follow-up to Moonlight is expected to be a big player throughout awards season and expands nationwide in the coming weeks.
This week's crop of newcomers still pales in comparison with last year's flock.
Historically, this mid-December, pre-Christmas weekend has not been a big one for movie openings, save for the exception of last year when Star Wars: The Last Jedi opened to $220 million, which is why the weekend overall is down some 61 percent from last year and why the year-to-date advantage has fallen slightly to 8.5 percent.
But the industry is still on track for a record year at the box office and has several late-game blockbusters on the way including Mary Poppins Returns.
Aquaman hits North American theaters today but the big budget DC superhero movie is already a blockbuster internationally. In its second weekend in theaters abroad, the film has already earned $261.3 million.
"It's the happiest time of the year for Hollywood. This is when you get that big burst at the end, a lot of people catching up on movies," said Paul Dergarabedian, the senior media analyst for Comscore. "It's about momentum and this momentum should carry into next year."
MovieStyle on 12/21/2018