Power finally coming back in the storm regions gave some added power to what was expected to be a wrecked box office. The biggest beneficiary: "Wreck-It Ralph," Disney's animated homage to classic videogames, which took in an estimated $49.1 million in its opening weekend.
And "Flight," the airline thriller from Paramount starring Denzel Washington, got off to a great start too, taking in $25 million for the three days -- well beyond pre-release projections which had it in the mid-teen millions.
Going into the weekend, between 150 and 200 Atlantic Coast theaters were expected to be closed. But many re-opened during the weekend as power came online, and the overall box office was running about 15 percent ahead of the comparable weekend last year.
Several of the region's theaters were among the strongest in the nation for "Wreck-it Ralph," Dave Hollis, Disney's executive vice-president of exhibition, told TheWrap on Sunday. With many kids out of school on Friday because of the storm, "Wreck-It Ralph' did strong matinee business on the East Coast on Friday, too.
"Our thoughts go out to all those who were and are still being affected by the storm," Hollis said. "And if in some way we offered folks who might have been ready for something upbeat a nice distraction, well that's a great feeling."
"Wreck-it Ralph" is the biggest Disney Animation opening ever, topping "Tangled," which debuted with $48 million in at Thanksgiving of 2010, and went on to make $200 million domestically and $590 million worldwide. "Ralph" added another $12 million overseas this weekend, so it had $61 million first weekend worldwide.
"It's a testament to the artists and filmmakers behind it," Hollis said. "I'm very proud that we've been able to build on the success of 'Tangled' and come back and do it again."
The PG-rated family film averaged an impressive $13,086 per screen from 3,752 theaters. The audiences were 67 percent families, which broke down 54 percent male and 57 percent under 25 years of age. They gave "Wreck-It Ralph" an "A" CinemaScore.
John C. Reilly voices the title character, a videogame bad guy who tries to turn himself around with calamitous results; Sarah Silverman is the voice behind his sweetheart, Vanellope von Schweetz. Jack McBrayer, Jane Lynch, Mindy Kaling and Ed O'Neill are also part of the voice cast. Rich Moore ("The Simpsons," "Futurama") directed, and Pixar founder John Lasseter executive produced the film, which carried a $165 million production budget.
Audiences gave "Flight," which is generating awards buzz for Washington and director Robert Zemeckis, an "A-" CinemasScore. It played to mature audiences with 89 percent over 25 years of age, and 51 percent were male.
The opening for "Flight" compares favorably with that of Paramount's "The Fighter," which brought in $12 million from 2,500 theaters when it opened in December of 2010. It even topped the last month's bow of "Argo," which took in $19 million from 3,200 theaters in its first weekend.
"It was a great opening," Paramount's distribution chief Don Harris told TheWrap Sunday, "particularly when you realize we're talking an adult-themed movie on the weekend before the presidential election."
Flight" represented a departure for director Zemeckis ("Back to the Future"), who hadn't done a live-action movie since "Cast Away" in 2000. The well-reviewed R-rated drama is about the investigation into a pilot's heroic emergency landing, during which it's found he had alcohol and drugs in his system.
"The best part of this is the return of Bob Zemeckis to live-action-filmmaking," said Harris. "To see him come back like this, with the critical reception and now the results, is really gratifying."
The weekend's other wide opener, Universal's martial arts film "The Man With the Iron Fists," took in $8.2 million playing at 1,868 theatres for a per-theater average of $4,400 and fourth place.
Rapper-turned-filmmaker RZA made his directorial debut on the R-rated film, which is presented by Quentin Tarantino, who served as its creative godfather. It stars Russell Crowe and Lucy Liu.
Audiences, which were 64 percent male and 53 percent under 30, gave the film a "C+" CinemaScore. Its production budget was $15 million.
Warner Bros.' "Argo" continued to show impressive staying power and finished third. Ben Affleck's political thriller took in $10.2 million from 2,724 screens, just a 15 percent drop from last weekend and a solid $3,761 per-screen average. After four weeks, its overall domestic gross is $75.8 million, a strong showing for a movie with a $44 million production budget.
The news wasn't as good for "Cloud Atlas." Andy and Lana Wachowski's sci-fi epic brought in just $5.2 million from 1,963 screens in its second week and finished sixth. The overall domestic gross for the independently financed film with a reported budget of $100 million is a disappointing $18.2 million.
The Liam Neeson thriller "Taken 2" finished fifth, with $6 million to raise its overall dometic gross to $125 million after five weeks.
With another family film in the marketplace, Sony's "Hotel Transylvania" finally cooled down but still did $4.5 million to raise its overall domestic gross to $137.5 million.