LOS ANGELES • Disney's Moana sailed to the top of the Thanksgiving box office in North America, earning a mighty US$81.1 million (S$115.5 million) over the five-day holiday weekend.
Bombing outright was Warren Beatty's new release Rules Don't Apply, a romantic comedic drama about billionaire recluse Howard Hughes that Beatty, 79, spent decades trying to make.
Independently financed for US$27 million, it collected US$2.2 million over the five-day period.
Moana also outperformed Paramount Pictures' Allied, another new release which earned US$18 million over the five-day period and US$13 million for the weekend, a weak result given its US$85-million budget. The film stars Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard.
With the mega-arrival of Moana, the reinvigorated Walt Disney Animation Studios cemented its status as cartoon-dom's reigning powerhouse for non-sequel films.
Moana's takings ranked as the second-best Thanksgiving opening on record, behind only Frozen, which took in US$93.6 million for Disney in 2013. (Walt Disney Animation Studios and its corporate sibling Pixar hold the top six spots on that Thanksgiving records list.)
Costing at least US$300 million to make and market worldwide, Moana took in US$16.3 million more in limited overseas release, including in China, where the response was muted.
Moana, which faced various controversies en route to theatres, including over an ill-advised Halloween tie-in and an oversized male character, is a Polynesian-set musical; Lin-Manuel Miranda, the virtuoso behind the Broadway smash Hamilton, contributed to the score.
After a fallow period in the 2000s when Pixar reigned supreme, Walt Disney Animation Studios has delivered one successful original film after another, including Tangled (2010), Wreck-It Ralph (2012) and, earlier this year, Zootopia.
Pixar, lately more focused on sequels, has recently had an uneven track record with originals, finding a blockbuster in Inside Out (2015), but fizzling with The Good Dinosaur (2015).
Among the new wide-release offerings, Robert Zemeckis' period spy drama Allied did the best. Had it not cost a hefty US$85 million to make - not including marketing expenses - that sales total would have been fine. As it is, the film, which drew soft reviews, will likely go down as another misfire for Zemeckis and Paramount. In partial overseas release, it took in US$9.4 million.
Broad Green's Bad Santa 2 fared poorly. Costing an estimated US$26 million to make, it sold about US$9 million in tickets.
The original Bad Santa, now considered a crude comedy classic, arrived to US$22 million in Thanksgiving ticket sales in 2003, after adjusting for inflation.
As for 20th Century Fox's Rules Don't Apply, the film likely suffered from mixed reviews, Beatty's 15-year absence from movie screens and old-fashioned marketing materials.
Even so, it was a strong weekend overall for Hollywood as a broad array of movies, including The Weinstein Co's art-house film Lion and sizzling holdovers such as Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them, generated wide audience interest. For the year to date, total ticket sales in North America stand at US$10.1 billion, a 4.5 per cent increase from the same period a year ago.