'Moana' rules Thanksgiving box office with $81M

Moana enjoyed smooth sailing at the Thanksgiving box office.

Disney's South Pacific animated adventure easily took the top spot for the five-day holiday with $81.1 million ($55.5 million for the three-day weekend), according to studio estimates.

Moana is propelled by a voice cast that includes Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson as the demigod Maui (who sings a showcase number, You're Welcome, written by Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda) and newcomer Auli'i Cravalho as the feisty title heroine.

It marks another major Thanksgiving weekend for Walt Disney Animation Studios, which unleashed its smash Frozen the same weekend in 2013, which remains the studio's biggest holiday opening weekend with a haul of $93.6 million.

"Their stuff is so good right now and connecting with audiences," says Jeff Bock, senior box-office analyst for Exhibitor Relations, who points to Disney's spring hit Zootopia and 2014's Big Hero 6. "The Disney animation brand is right up there with Pixar at this point."

Moana also scored with critics, earning a stellar 98% positive rating on aggregate review site RottenTomatoes.com and an A grade from audiences at CinemaScore.

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them continued to cast a spell in its second week at the box office. J.K. Rowling's new film venture, a spinoff prequel to her Harry Potter franchise, starring Eddie Redmayne as wizard Newt Scamander, took $65.8 million for the holiday weekend for $156.2 million total.

"This is very impressive for a very competitive family weekend," says Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst for comScore.

Doctor Strange, featuring Benedict Cumberbatch as the Marvel superhero, continued to thrive in its fourth weekend. Strange took third place and $18.9 million for $205.1 million to date.

Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard's World War II spy romance/adventure Allied landed in fourth with $18 million. Those middling results were better than expected, Dergarabedian says.

"For an R-rated period piece, the fact that Allied was able to earn $18 million is actually impressive, considering the vast array of more populist and younger-skewing fare available," Dergarabedian says. He adds that Allied "benefited from the heightened awareness for the film created, for better or worse, by the highly publicized split of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie."

Allied scored a 62% approval rating on RottenTomatoes and a B on CinemaScore.

Arrival rounded out the top five in its third week with $15.6 million for $62.4 million total.

Sequel Bad Santa 2 ended up on Santa's naughty list with $9 million and finished seventh. Only 25% of critics liked the follow-up to 2003's Bad Santa, according to Rotten Tomatoes, and audiences gave it a C-plus on CinemaScore.

"It's been a long time between Bad Santas, and this was another sequel this year that people just didn't respond to," says Dergarabedian.

Warren Beatty’s Hollywood nostalgia trip Rules Don’t Apply couldn't crack the top 10 in its opening weekend. The comedy/drama, positioned as an awards hopeful, took in a disappointing $2.2 million for five days.

Final numbers are expected Monday.


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