The animated penguin tale "Happy Feet" was the No. 1 movie for the third straight weekend, posting ticket sales of $17 million, according to studio estimates Sunday. Also for the third straight weekend, the James Bond adventure "Casino Royale" ran a close second, taking in $15.1 million.
"Happy Feet," from Warner Bros., raised its total domestic gross to $121 million. Sony's "Casino Royale" has climbed to $115.9 million.
With a fairly open market for family crowds through Christmas, "Happy Feet" is expected to top out at $185 million or more, said Jeff Goldstein, general sales manager for Warner Bros.
Topping $300 million worldwide, "Casino Royale" is on the way to surpassing the $432 million total of "Die Another Day" to become the top-grossing Bond movie, said Rory Bruer, head of distribution at Sony.
"It's been all about 'Happy Feet' and 'Casino Royale' for the past three weeks. Those films have really captured the marketplace," said Paul Dergarabedian, president of box-office tracker Media By Numbers. "I've never really seen two movies define the start of a holiday season in the way these two have."
Denzel Washington's thriller "Deja Vu" remained in third place for a second straight weekend with $11 million, bringing the Disney release's total to $44.1 million.
A weak crop of newcomers were unable to bump off the holdovers. Despite the holiday season, movie-goers generally were not in the mood for New Line's "The Nativity Story," a tale of Christ's humble birth that debuted modestly with $8 million to come at No. 4.
Starring Keisha Castle-Hughes as the Virgin Mary, "The Nativity Story" received mixed reviews, with many critics finding it a skillfully crafted but tame and unimaginative retelling of the first Christmas.
Snow in the Midwest kept many movie-goers at home, undermining the film's opening, said David Tuckerman, New Line's head of distribution.
"The storms in the middle of the country couldn't have hurt us more," Tuckerman said. "It's a movie made for the heartland, and it killed us in the heartland."
Fox Atomic's "Turistas," a horror thriller about Americans stranded and terrorized in the Brazilian jungle, opened at No. 8 with $3.5 million.
MGM's campus comedy "National Lampoon's Van Wilder: The Rise of Taj" — which elevates sidekick Kal Penn to lead status in the absence of Ryan Reynolds, who starred in the original movie — flopped with just $2.3 million, coming in at No. 10.
In limited release, Morgan Freeman's "10 Items Or Less" opened weakly, taking in $40,150 in 15 theaters. The low-budget film, about an actor who bonds with a supermarket cashier (Paz Vega) while researching a role, will be available for download just two weeks after its theatrical debut in a test of online movie distribution.
Estimated ticket sales for Friday through Sunday at U.S. and Canadian theaters, according to Media By Numbers LLC. Final figures will be released Monday.
1. "Happy Feet," $17.05 million.
2. "Casino Royale," $15.1 million.
3. "Deja Vu," $11 million.
4. "The Nativity Story," $8 million.
5. "Deck the Halls," $6.6 million.
6. "The Santa Clause 3: The Escaped Clause," $5 million.
7. "Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan," $4.8 million.
8. "Turistas," $3.5 million.
9. "Stranger Than Fiction," $3.4 million.
10. "National Lampoon's Van Wilder: The Rise of Taj," $2.3 million.