LOS ANGELES – After a slow start out of the station, "The Polar Express" (search) just keeps chugging along. Taking in nearly $10 million over the weekend, the holiday tale lifted its domestic total to $110 million with plenty of steam left for Christmas and New Year's.
A month ago, "The Polar Express" looked like it could be a train wreck, debuting with $30.6 million in its first five days, an unremarkable start given the movie's $170 million production cost and the luster of star Tom Hanks (search) and director Robert Zemeckis (search).
Yet the movie's Christmas theme has given it great staying power, with its three-day gross down just 9 percent this past weekend. Revenues fell far more sharply for other holdovers in the top 10, ranging from a 32 percent decline for "Christmas With the Kranks" to 70 percent for "Alexander."
"The Polar Express" opened amid a rush of family films, hitting theaters just five days after the blockbuster "The Incredibles" and a week before the action hit "National Treasure." Distributor Warner Bros. sought to build as big an audience as possible for "The Polar Express" early on to position it for a final Christmas rush.
"Our best play time is in front of us," said Dan Fellman, Warner Bros. head of distribution. "We realized the advantage for us was to get as much play time as we could prior to Christmas, because we always felt our movie, which had fabulous word of mouth, would grow as we got closer to Christmas."
Adapted from Chris Van Allsburg's picture book, "The Polar Express" follows a doubting boy as he regains his faith in the spirit of Christmas during a magical train trip to the North Pole.
The movie was created through "performance-capture" technology, with Hanks and other actors going through the motions on a bare soundstage. Their movements were recorded by infrared sensors, then re-created in digital imagery that resembles the computer animation of "Shrek 2" or "The Incredibles."
The technology allowed for semi-realistic renderings of its human characters, which include Hanks in multiple roles, among them the boy, the train conductor and Santa Claus.
Reviews were wildly mixed on "The Polar Express," with some critics calling it an instant Christmas classic and others saying the human figures resembled lifeless zombies.
With overseas box-office potential and TV and home-video revenue — plus its prospects as a holiday perennial on television and video — "The Polar Express" now has a solid shot to earn back its enormous production and marketing costs.
"That film's been completely vindicated by its long-term box-office performance," said Paul Dergarabedian, president of box-office tracker Exhibitor Relations.