By Brent Lang
LOS ANGELES (Variety.com) - Alien invasion thriller "Arrival" capitalized on strong reviews to score an impressive debut, while Marvel's "Doctor Strange" topped the box office for the second consecutive weekend.
The superhero adventure picked up $43 million to bring its domestic total to $153 million. DreamWorks Animation's "Trolls," another holdover, came in second, earning $35 million to bring its stateside haul to $94 million after two weeks of release.
"Arrival" took third, easily outpacing pre-release tracking with a debut of $24 million. Heading into the weekend, the film was expected to launch to $16 million. "Arrival" was directed by Denis Villeneuve, who has built a steady following with the likes of "Prisoners" and "Sicario." It focuses on a linguist (Amy Adams) who is recruited to try to communicate with alien visitors. Paramount picked up domestic rights to the film for $20 million. FilmNation, Lava Bear and 21 Laps financed the $47 million production.
"Arrival's" strong box office result is a shot in the arm for Paramount, which has weathered a string of flops such as "Zoolander 2," "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows," and "Ben-Hur." The instability starts at the top. Viacom, Paramount's corporate parent, was engulfed in an internecine war for much of the past year, as Shari Redstone, the daughter of founder Sumner Redstone, successfully worked to oust Philippe Dauman from his perch as the company's CEO. Paramount chief Brad Grey is trying to convince Shari Redstone that he has the vision to lead the company out of its doldrums, and has pointed to films like "Arrival" as proof that the studio's slate is improving.
Universal's "Almost Christmas" debuted to a solid $15.6 million across 2,376 locations for a fourth place finish. The comedy about a dysfunctional family gathering for the holidays after their mother dies was economical to produce and carries a $17 million budget. It stars Danny Glover, Gabrielle Union, Kimberly Elise, and Jessie Usher.
Liongate's "Hacksaw Ridge" rounded out the top five, earning $10.8 million to bring the war drama's total to $32.3 million.
Among the weekend's other wide releases, EuropaCorp's "Shut In" stumbled out of the gate, kicking off to a paltry $3.7 million from 2,058 locations.
Sony bowed "Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk" on two screens where it made $120,300. The Iraq War drama is shot at an accelerated framerate, but few theaters will be able to exhibit the film at that speed. The limited release did exhibit the picture in the immersive format that director Ang Lee has pushed theaters to incorporate. It was screened in 4K, 3D, and at 120 frames per second. "Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk" will expand next weekend on to more than 800 theaters.
In limited release, Sony Pictures Classics debuted "Elle" on two screens where it earned $56,012. The thriller stars Isabelle Huppert as a woman who plots revenge against the man who raped her.