According to the playbook of most Hollywood executives, the weekend after New Year's is a time to let moviegoers take in some of the movies they may have missed during the bombardment of new releases in December. If new films are to be released at all at that time, they should be cheapos -- usually no-risk horror flicks. The Common wisdom is that people just don't go to the movies then. So it was not surprising when the only film that was released this past weekend was the exorcism flick The Devil Inside , which most pundits figured would earn around $8-10 million. In fact, it turned out that everything the experts thought they knew about the first weekend after New Year's was wrong. The Devil Inside wound up with an estimated $34.5 million, the most ever earned by a movie debuting over the first weekend after New Year's. In fact only two other films, the Star Wars reissue in 1997 and Cloverfield in 2008, sold more tickets -- but they were released later in the month. Moreover, business for holdovers was brisk as well, with most of them falling by a third or less from last week's strong start. Mission Impossible -- Ghost Protocol fell just 30 percent to $20.5 million, while in third place, Warner Bros.' Sherlock Holmes A Game of Shadows slipped just 33 percent to $14.1 million. Overall, the box office was up 29 percent from the same weekend a year ago. So how did The Devil Inside become such a big hit? Certainly it wasn't because of word-of-mouth. The website RottenTomatoes.com has published hundreds of comments from people who saw the movie, and they are nearly all of the "worst movie I have ever seen in my life" genre. No, what probably did the trick were a slick trailer, online teasers, and a blitz of TV ads. "All the good parts were [in] the previews," one Rotten Tomatoes poster commented. "Misleading trailer," commented another. " The trailer/commercial ... is infinitely more horrifying than the film itself," said another. Newspaper and TV critics, who were not shown the film until the night before it opened, were certainly no kinder. "Here it is just the first week of January, and already we have a strong candidate for the worst movie of 2012," wrote Peter Howell in the Toronto Star. And the critics were left scratching their heads over The Ending just like others in the audience. "The story doesn't climax or resolve so much as just stop," remarked the Los Angeles Times' s Mark Olsen, who heard one audience member say after it was over, "That was it?"

The top ten films for the weekend, according to studio estimates compiled by Box Office Mojo 1. The Devil Inside , $34.5 million; 2. Mission Impossible -- Ghost Protocol , $20.5 million; 3. Sherlock Holmes A Game of Shadows , $14.1 million; 4. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo , $11.3 million; 5. ALVIN And THE CHIPMUNKS Chipwrecked , $9.5 million; 6. War Horse , $8.6 million; 7. We Bought a Zoo, $8.5 million; 8. The Adventures of Tintin , $6.6 million; 9. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy , $5.8 million; 10. New Year's Eve , $3.3 million.

09/01/2012