LOS ANGELES – Millions of Americans went shopping for comedy this weekend, giving the star-studded "Meet the Fockers (search)" the record for the best Christmas weekend opening ever.
The sequel, reuniting Ben Stiller (search) and Robert DeNiro and adding Dustin Hoffman and Barbra Streisand (search) as Stiller's parents, earned $44.7 million over the holiday weekend, beating the previous record of $30 million, set in 2002 by "Catch Me if You Can." The movie's performance was even more impressive when measured against the overall weekend box office, which was down 26.5 percent from last year.
"When Christmas falls on a weekend, it's bad for business," said Paul Dergarabedian, president of box-office tracker Exhibitor Relations.
This weekend's top 12 films grossed an estimated $121.9 million, compared to last year's $165.8 million when Christmas fell on a Thursday. Last year's figure was skewed a bit by the third "Lord of the Rings" movie, which earned $50.6 million in its second weekend last year.
"Meet the Fockers" knocked last week's top film — "Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events" — to third place, with $12.5 million. Second place was taken by the live-action version of "Fat Albert," which debuted Saturday with a two-day total of $12.7 million, according to studio estimates.
Final figures were to be released Monday.
"Meet the Fockers" succeeded in part because of an aggressive ad campaign, including the release of the DVD of the original "Meet the Parents" as well as the return of Streisand to the big screen after an eight-year absence.
It also captured the clash between families, which resonates at the holidays.
"It's a clash of cultures," said Marc Shmuger, vice chairman of Universal Pictures. "It's about the coming together of completely different families, but that's exactly what the world is going through right now."
"Meet the Fockers" opened Wednesday, bringing its five-day total to $68.5 million.
"The Aviator," the epic tale of billionaire Howard Hughes, did well enough in limited release to take fourth place with $9.4 million. The movie, directed by Martin Scorsese and starring Leonardo DiCaprio (search), expanded from 40 theaters to 1,796 on Christmas Day.
The small budget horror flick "Darkness" went against the slew of family films on the market now and attracted $6.4 million in its opening weekend. The movie opened Saturday.
The lavish Andrew Lloyd Weber musical "The Phantom of the Opera" also debuted in limited release, bringing in $4.2 million from 622 theaters. It debuted Wednesday, bringing its five-day total to $6.5 million.
Estimated ticket sales for Friday through Sunday at North American theaters, according to Exhibitor Relations Co. Inc.
1. "Meet the Fockers," $44.7 million
2. "Fat Albert," 12.7 million.
3. "Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events," $12.5 million
4. "The Aviator," $9.4 million.
5. "Ocean's Twelve," $8.6 million.
6. "Darkness," $6.4 million.
7. "The Polar Express," $6.3 million.
8. "Spanglish," $5 million
9. "The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou," $4.8 million.
10. "Andrew Lloyd Weber's The Phantom of the Opera," $4.2 million.