LOS ANGELES – Tom Cruise's latest mission has won a holiday weekend that's shaping up with some silent nights at movie theaters as business continues to lag.
Studio estimates Sunday placed Cruise's "Mission: Impossible -- Ghost Protocol" a solid No. 1 with $26.5 million domestically over its first weekend in full release. The movie raised its total to $59 million since it started a week earlier in huge-screen cinemas and expanded nationwide last Wednesday, and distributor Paramount estimated that revenues will reach $72.7 million by Monday.
Cruise's fourth "Mission" flick was a bright spot over a Christmas weekend filled with so-so tidings for Hollywood, whose usually busy holiday stretch since Thanksgiving has been a bust.
Generally well-reviewed movies from Steven Spielberg ("The Adventures of Tintin"), David Fincher ("The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo") and Cameron Crowe ("We Bought a Zoo") -- with casts that include Matt Damon, Scarlett Johansson and Daniel Craig -- opened with modest to weak results.
Despite predictions from studio executives that 2011 could be a record-setter that would finish with a bang, domestic revenues remained stuck at a sluggish pace that has lingered all year.
Hollywood should finish the year with $10.1 billion domestically, down 4.5 percent from 2010, according to box-office tracker Hollywood.com.
The picture gets worse taking into account higher ticket prices, which mean Hollywood brings in fewer fans for each dollar spent. Actual domestic attendance for 2011 will close out at about 1.27 billion, down 5.3 percent from the previous year's and the lowest head count since 1995, when admissions totaled 1.26 billion.
"Thank God 2011 is almost over, because we've had a real rough run here at the end of the year," said Hollywood.com analyst Paul Dergarabedian. "We always count on the holiday season to give us a big boost at the end of the year, and it just didn't happen.
"These admission numbers this year just tell me that we maybe have to set our sights a little lower in terms of attendance every year."
Since peaking at a modern high of 1.6 billion in 2002, domestic movie admissions have been on a general decline since.
Studio executives always insist that slow times result from weak films, but on paper, the strong lineup Hollywood presented this year should have had fans lining up in huge numbers. Pretty good films are out there this holiday season, yet blockbuster expectations fizzled, a sign that people might be skipping a trip to the theater in favor of home-viewing, video games or the countless other entertainment options their gadgets now offer.
Rising ticket prices, particularly the extra few dollars it costs to see 3-D films, also could be causing a backlash among fans.
With "Ghost Protocol" climbing toward the $100 million mark, it's a return to box-office form for Cruise, who had been Hollywood's most-dependable earner for two decades until he turned off fans with odd antics in his personal life six years ago.
"Ghost Protocol" will be Cruise's first top-billed $100 million hit since 2006's "Mission: Impossible III." He had a supporting role in 2008's $100 million comedy hit "Tropic Thunder," which was headlined by Ben Stiller, Robert Downey Jr. and Jack Black.
Even with a No. 1 debut, "Ghost Protocol" still was a shadow of its predecessors. The first three "Mission: Impossible" movies ranged from $45 million to $58 million over opening weekend, but those installments opened at the start of the busy summer season.
As of Friday, "Ghost Protocol" also had brought in a healthy $118 million overseas.
Downey's "Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows" fell from No., 1 to No. 2 in its second weekend with $17.8 million. The family sequel "Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked" dropped from second to third with $13.3 million.
Both sequels trail well behind the business their predecessors did. "A Game of Shadows," from Warner Bros., lifted its domestic haul to $76.6 million, while 20th Century Fox's "Chipwrecked" pushed its receipts to $50.3 million.
The weekend's newcomers failed to light up the box office, too. Fincher and Craig's "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" from Sony was No. 4 with $13 million, Spielberg's "The Adventures of Tintin" from Paramount was No. 5 with $9.1 million and Crowe, Damon and Johansson's "We Bought a Zoo" from 20th Century Fox was No. 6 with $7.8 million.
"Dragon Tattoo" raised its total to $21.4 million since opening Tuesday night, while "Tintin" lifted its take to $17.1 million since debuting Wednesday.
European literary exports "Dragon Tattoo," adapted from Stieg Larsson's Swedish best-seller, and "Tintin," based on Belgian artist Herge's storybook classics, are finding a lukewarm reception among U.S. crowds.
"Dragon Tattoo" has been a sensation among U.S. readers yet failed to challenge "Mission: Impossible" and the other established franchises at the top of the box office.
Beloved by generations of readers overseas, "Tintin" launched internationally two months ahead of its U.S. release. But the blockbuster global attention, with nearly $250 million already in the bank from foreign markets, did not translate to crowds in the United States.
The calendar made it a tough weekend for Hollywood, with Christmas Eve -- always a slow night for movie-going -- falling on Saturday, usually the best day of the week at theaters.
Christmas Day typically is a strong one for movies, as fans squeeze in a film between unwrapping presents and sitting down to family dinners.
Two big holiday releases -- Spielberg's World War I epic "War Horse" and Tom Hanks and Sandra Bullock's Sept. 11 drama "Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close" -- opened Christmas Day, but estimates on their revenues will not be available until Monday.