Mission Impossible leads box office at end of weak year

The year's final weekend saw top movies add to ticket sales from the Christmas holiday one week earlier but no change in the top three chart positions. The "Sherlock Holmes" and "Alvin and the Chipmunks" franchise films took the No. 2 and 3 positions behind Tom Cruise's 'Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol.'

David James/Paramount Pictures/AP
Tom Cruise plays Ethan Hunt (l.) Paula Patton plays Jane, Simon Pegg plays Benji, and Jeremy Renner plays Brandt (r.) in a scene from 'Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol.'

Tom Cruise's fourth "Mission: Impossible" movie held on to the top of box office charts over New Year's weekend as Hollywood said goodbye to a sluggish year at domestic movie theaters.

As 2011 ended, U.S. and Canadian revenue fell from last year and attendance slumped to its lowest level since 1995.

The year's final weekend saw top movies add to ticket sales from the Christmas holiday one week earlier but no change in the top three chart positions. The "Sherlock Holmes" and "Alvin and the Chipmunks" franchise films took the No. 2 and 3 positions behind Cruise's film.

From Friday through Monday, "Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol" hauled in an estimated $38.3 million at U.S. and Canadian theaters, distributor Paramount Pictures said.

The movie that features the 49-year-old Cruise as special agent Ethan Hunt dangling off the world's tallest building has grossed $366.5 million worldwide, Of that, $225.3 million has come from international markets , affirming Cruise's place as a solid performer for global audiences and capping a strong year for "MI4" distributor, Paramount Pictures.

Propelled by the third "Transformers" film, Paramount's movies grossed nearly $5.2 billion worldwide, the studio said. The total included nearly $2 billion at domestic theaters and a record $3.2 billion internationally.

No new movies were released nationwide over the weekend.

In second place, detective sequel "Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows" grossed $26.5 million over four days. Third place belonged to family film "Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked," which pulled in $21.0 million.

Rounding out the top five, Steven Spielberg's family film "War Horse" landed in fourth with $19.2 million, and thriller "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" pulled in $19.0 million.

Elsewhere, "The Iron Lady" starring Meryl Streep in a critically praised performance as former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher opened strong with $280,409 from just four theaters. That's a hefty per-screen average of $70,102, nearly three times higher than the next-closest movie.

HOLIDAYS UP, YEAR DOWN

Domestic ticket sales for all films rose 10 percent from the same weekend a year ago, but the strong finish could not lift yearly revenues in line with 2010.

Domestic revenue for 2011 fell 3.4 percent to $10.2 billion, the second-straight yearly decline, according to estimates from Hollywood.com. More worrisome for studios and theater chains is that attendance dropped 4.2 percent to 1.3 billion, the lowest pace since 1995.

Pundits typically peg low turnout on unappealing movies, but this year, studio executives and industry experts have said other factors may be dampening sales. They cite the weak economy and competition from mobile devices, social networking, video games and other entertainment options.

This year also was measured against early 2010 results from "Avatar," the top-grossing movie of all time with $760 million at domestic and $2 billion at international box offices.

"A confluence of factors contributed to the downturn," said Paul Dergarabedian of box-office tracker Hollywood.com. The coming year, with a large slate of promising titles, "will be a very pivotal year. It will tell us, is it really just the product, or is something bigger going on," he said.

But the year ended on a high-note. The final week of the 2011 ranked as the year's second highest with domestic sales of more than $350 million, said Chris Aronson, senior vice president for domestic distribution at 20th Century Fox.

"It's not all doom and gloom," he said. "We just had a sensational week of movie-going."

Executives also note global ticket sales remain healthy with several of 2011's biggest titles seeing the bulk of sales from international markets, much like "Mission: Impossible."

Looking ahead, Hollywood is counting on a packed lineup of big-budget action movies and sequels to bring crowds back in 2012. The slate includes Batman sequel "The Dark Knight Rises," superhero movie "The Avengers," young-adult book adaptation "The Hunger Games" and the first of two "Hobbit" movies.

Paramount is a division of Viacom Inc. Time Warner Inc unit Warner Bros. released "Sherlock Holmes," and News Corp unit 20th Century Fox distributed "Chipwrecked." "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" was released by Sony Corp, while "War Horse" was produced by Dreamworks and distributed by Walt Disney Co. Privately held Weinstein Co. released "The Iron Lady." 

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