LOS ANGELES — Although “Thor: The Dark World” hung on to the No. 1 spot at the box office this weekend, the big story was a stellar opening for “The Best Man Holiday,” which trounced all expectations to debut with a studio-estimated $30.6 million.
Going into the weekend, the distributor of “The Best Man Holiday,” Universal Pictures, projected that the film would take in a modest $17 million, while prerelease audience surveys indicated that it would start off with around $23 million.
“There’s no crystal ball in guessing this stuff,” said Nikki Rocco, Universal’s president of distribution. “It was fair to think this film — where 87 percent of the audience was African-American — would open in the high teens.”
That it nearly doubled that estimate is “a phenomenal result,” said Rocco. “I would never have thought in my most nonlucid moment to expect this — the picture only cost $17 million.”
“The Best Man Holiday,” which is about a group of friends gathering for Christmas, is a sequel to 1999’s “The Best Man,” which grossed $34 million. Both films were directed by Malcolm D. Lee and star a number of the same actors, including Taye Diggs, Terrence Howard and Nia Long.
“The Best Man Holiday” received a coveted average grade of A-plus from moviegoers, according to market research firm CinemaScore. That means it joins an elite club of films that have enjoyed long and fruitful box office runs, including “Argo,” “42,” “The Help,” “The King’s Speech,” “The Blind Side” and “Titanic.”
Disney’s 3-D sequel “Thor: The Dark World” took in a solid $38.5 million, which represented an expected 55 percent drop from its opening weekend, when it grossed $86 million.
The film cost Marvel Entertainment $170 million to produce and, after two weekends, has already taken in a strong $147 million. It’s currently on track to eclipse the performance of its predecessor, which grossed $181 million domestically.
Meanwhile, Paramount Vantage’s buzzy limited-release opening “Nebraska,” which was directed by Alexander Payne and stars Bruce Dern as a sour old man on a road trip with his son, is off to an auspicious start, taking in $140,000 in four locations.
Next weekend will see a significant shake-up as the highly anticipated “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” blazes into theaters. The film opened on 962 screens in Brazil on Friday and pulled in an estimated $6.3 million over the weekend, according to its distributor, Lionsgate. That’s double what the first “Hunger Games” grossed in its opening weekend in Brazil.