Who won Monsters vs. Aliens? One day, the answer may be the 3-D film.
The animated, comin'-at-ya comedy debuted with a weekend- and year-best $58.2 million Friday-Sunday gross, per studio estimates.
Elsewhere, The Haunting in Connecticut bowed with a stronger-than-expected $23 million, while wrestling star John Cena's latest bid to become Dwayne Johnson, 12 Rounds ($5.3 million), was even weaker than his first.
Drilling down into the numbers:
• The most optimistic projections had Monsters vs. Aliens breaking $60 million, but Exhibitor Relations box office analyst Jeff Bock thinks the movie nonetheless came in "right on target."
• A little backstory on Monsters vs. Aliens: When the movie went into production, Bock reminds, DreamWorks figured on it playing exclusively at higher-priced, 3-D-equipped theaters. But with 3-D conversion going slower than hoped, only about half of Monsters vs. Aliens' 4,104 theaters ended up playing the movie as Jeffrey Katzenberg intended. If the studio had gotten its 3-D way, Bock figures the movie could have scored a $70 to $80 million debut.
• "I think honestly it's an investment in the future of 3-D," says Bock, bottom-lining the reputedly $175 million Monsters vs. Aliens. "Initially these films are going to cost more."
• In 3-D or 2-D, Monsters vs. Aliens goes down as the eighth-biggest animated opener of all time, per Box Office Mojo stats, just behind Cars and just ahead of Toy Story 2.
• Watchmen ($2.8 million) broke $100 million overall, which would be a better thing for Warners if it hadn't cost $120 to $150 million to produce, and/or didn't lack the legs of an animated movie.
• Last week's major openers, Knowing ($14.7 million), I Love You, Man ($12.6 million) and Duplicity ($7.6 million) all held well in their second weekends. I Love You, Man held best, with ticket sales down just 29 percent.
• Cena's 12 Rounds opened in seventh place, one spot below Johnson's three-week old Race to Witch Mountain ($5.6 million).
• Cena's first WWE-produced movie, 2006's The Marine, opened with $7.1 million.
• Amy Adams' hit indie comedy Sunshine Cleaning ($1.3 million) nearly broke into the Top 10 on the strength of only 167 theaters.
• Tyler Perry's Madea Goes to Jail ($1.1 million) exited the Top 10 after four weekends, and a Perry-best $89 million overall gross.
• Also exiting the Top 10 after spectacular-to-quietly-impressive runs: Oscar winner Slumdog Millionaire ($1.1 million; $139.3 million overall) and the 3-D animated Coraline ($300,871; $73.9 million overall).
• The new Christian-themed documentary The Cross didn't inspire Fireproof business, or crowds. It grossed a weak $300,000 at 221 theaters.
Here's a complete look at the weekend's top-grossing films based on Friday-Sunday estimates from Exhibitor Relations: