Festive-themed romantic comedy New Year's Eve has topped the US weekend box office as Hollywood's holiday season got off to a bad start.
According to North American studio estimates, fewer people went to the movies the last two weekends than during the box-office hush that followed the September 11 attacks 10 years ago.
US cinema revenues tumbled to a 2011 low of about 77 million dollars this weekend, when, despite its star-filled cast, New Year's Eve debuted at number one with a weak 13.7 million. Jonah Hill's comedy The Sitter opened at number two with just 10 million.
Divided by this year's average ticket price of 7.96 dollars, the combined 158 million haul means only an estimated 19.8 million people went to the movies the last two weekends. Based on the average ticket price, this year's top-grossing film, Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows: Part 2, drew more people all by itself over its opening weekend.
The slowdown the last two weeks followed a quiet Thanksgiving holiday weekend, when new movies failed to pack in the projected droves.
"The audience certainly is available. Unfortunately, they have not come out in the numbers they have in the past," said Dan Fellman, head of distribution at Warner Bros., which released New Year's Eve, whose cast includes Sarah Jessica Parker, Halle Berry, Robert De Niro, Ashton Kutcher, Hilary Swank and Jessica Biel. "I'm hoping this is just a glitch, and starting next weekend, the box-office will expand."
Next weekend begins Hollywood's end-of-year blockbuster frenzy, with the debuts of Robert Downey Jr's Sherlock Holmes: A Game Of Shadows and the family sequel Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked.