It was beginning to look a lot like Penguinmas as Warner Bros.' animated Happy Feet topped the box office for the third week in a row, earning an estimated $17 million to bring its total after 17 days to $121 million. The Nativity Story, the biblical tale that was expected to give the penguin cartoon its only major competition turned in what Daily Variety charitably called a "meek" performance, earning only $8 million -- less than 10 percent of what Mel Gibson's The Passion Of The Christ earned during its first weekend (although, to be fair, no one had expected Nativity even to come close to duplicate the success of Passion). Not only didn't it inherit the Earth, it didn't even inherit middle America, based on initial figures, which are based on actual receipts for Friday and Saturday but only a guess for Sunday. (The film was expected to attract Sunday church-goers, many of whom are not regular movie patrons, but snowstorms in the Midwest kept even many churchgoers at home.) On the other hand, James Bond remained a force to be reckoned with as Casino Royale remained in second place with about $15.1 million. The weekend's other films debuting in wide release, Turistas and Van Wilder: The Rise of Taj, each tanked, with Turistas, a horror flick that picked up some unexpectedly decent reviews, earning just $3.5 million, while Van Wilder earned an even tamer $2.3 million.
The top ten films for the weekend, according to studio estimates compiled by Media by Numbers:
1. Happy Feet, $17.05 million; 2. Casino Royale, $15.1 million; 3. Déjà Vu, $11 million; 4. The Nativity Story, $8 million; 5. Deck the Halls, $6.6 million; 6. The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause, $5 million; 7. Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan, $4.8 million; 8. Turistas, $3.5 million; 9. Stranger Than Fiction, $3.4 million; 10. National Lampoon's Van Wilder: The Rise of Taj, $2.3 million.