Holiday Box Office: Start Your Weekend With A Hangover

It’s a holiday weekend and that means the studios are releasing their best bets for big bucks at the box office. Two blockbuster sequels got the jump on the weekend with Thursday releases: Kung Fu Panda 2 (NASDAQ:DWA) and The Hangover Part II (NYSE:TWX).

The first Hangover film was released in 2009 for a total of nearly $45 million, grossing over $277 million in all, making it the sixth biggest earner for the year. And the studios are expecting even more success for the sequel, which made $10.4 million in midnight showings in 2,600 theaters on the eve of its release, an all-time high for an R-rated film. Thursday morning it moved into wider distribution, playing at 3,615 theaters across the country, another record opening for an R-rated film.

By the end of opening day, the film had already grossed $31.7 million. The film is predicted to pull in $110 to $125 million by the end of the long weekend, despite rather poor reviews. It just goes to show that Americans aren’t too picky about their weekend entertainment. Or maybe it’s the newest member of the Hangover gang that’s got everyone in a tizzy: a monkey. And really, who doesn’t love a monkey?

Kung Fu Panda 2 didn’t make quite as much money, despite appealing to a fairly larger demographic. Maybe it’s because the kiddies were still in school. The film opened to a scant $5.8 million. However, there’s still hope as we roll into the weekend and school lets out. After all, the first film, released in June 2008, made a very respectable $60 million opening weekend with a final domestic gross of $215 million.

Continuing this weekend is another sequel, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (NYSE:DIS), which is, I believe, the 47th film in that franchise? People are still seeing it despite terrible reviews and the absence of the franchise’s two leads, Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley. But Captain Jack Sparrow himself, Johnny Depp, returns alongside Penelope Cruz and…that’s about it. What more do you need? The film raked in $90 million when it opened last weekend, the biggest opening weekend for any film so far in 2011. Since then it’s pulled in another $23 million, taking its place as the fifth highest grossing film of the year just below the much lauded Rango.

But for those of you not impressed by big numbers, Terrence Malick’s “Tree of Life” (NASDAQ:NWSA), starring Brad Pitt and Sean Penn, opens this weekend in limited release. And if you’re looking for lighter fare, there’s Woody Allen’s “Midnight in Paris“, which opened to critical acclaim in select theaters last weekend. The film stars a slew of celebrities, including Rachel McAdams, Marion Cotillard, and Owen Wilson, with appearances by Adrien Brody, playing Salvador Dalí, Kathy Bates as Gertrude Stein, and Tom Hiddleston playing F. Scott Fitzgerald.

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