$169,189,427. $91,071,119. These are the numbers that The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 1 would have to do in its weekend and on its first day to compete with Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2, which holds the weekend and single day crowns. But those numbers tell a story of how front loaded sequels are these days. Still, it could be close, which would put a kick in the rear of the recent modest box office. And then there’s Happy Feet Two. All that, Renesmee Cullen and more…

When New Moon was released it took the one day record away from The Dark Knight, which seemed like a big deal in the moment for people who care about the numbers. Eclipse opened on a Wednesday before Fourth of July in 2010, so it had a five day weekend, and didn’t bust any records (or ghosts, for that matter). New Moon did $142 for its weekend while Eclipse made $157 over the five day. What’s notable here is also what’s notable about the Harry Potter numbers I mentioned before – they’re insanely front loaded. Potter opened to near $170 and did $380 total. Both Twilight pictures got near or over $300 Million. That means half their business is done in the first week.

What this also means is that the first day has become the most important for a franchise sequel. If you wanted to sneak in and see Breaking Dawn – Part 1, Friday is going to have sell out crowds for most of the day. By Sunday, they’ll be plenty of seats just by the simple math. And between the midnight shows and all day Friday, it’s likely that Dawn will do at least $70 Million or so on its opening day. Potter may have had the advantage numbers-wise by being in 3-D, and it may be an impossible number to beat for now. Next year, with the final chapter of Twilight or The Dark Knight Rises, we may yet see a film that does an over $100 Million day, or a $200 Million weekend. But as long as the economy is hurting, this seems unlikely. Both will have the selling points of being final chapters.

The weird thing for Twilight directors is that directing these films aren’t a boost to their careers. At all. It used to be that if you directed a huge studio movie that made boatloads of cash, your next project would be greenlit near immediately with a fairly hefty budget. Eclipse director David Slade has a film in pre-production. Chris Weitz, who directed New Moon, just made a small little independant called A Better Life. To that end, David Yates is still trying to figure out how to follow up Potter, and Pirates director Gore Verbinski‘s The Lone Ranger had to have a much smaller budget to move forward. Verbinski directed three of the most successful films of the 21st century and he doesn’t get carte blanche, or he doesn’t outside of the Pirates world.

Even Christopher Nolan has struggled with this. Inception was seen as a payoff for The Dark Knight‘s billion dollar worldwide total, and until people saw it and it became a hit Inception was considered a huge question mark and risk. So even though Dawn director Bill Condon should have two films that will do over or around $300 Million, it may not mean much for his career. In this way the industry is broken, and franchises have more power than any single director or actor.

Evidence of that is also available in the release of Happy Feet Two. The first film was a strong performer – it opened to $41 Million and did nearly $200 domestic. This one should open to less. Partly because it’s in 3-D, partly because it’s not going to have much time to find an audience, partly because they never figured out how to sell the sequel. People loved the first film, why isn’t this a bigger deal? Perhaps it’s been too long. The first one came out in 2006, and five years later, there’s no great enthusiasm. Three years seems to be the modern window, though obviously Toy Story 3 took much longer.

But the film is not targeted to do sequel numbers for a hit like that (which would be doing over $50 Million), nor new CGI animation from Pixar/Dreamworks (which is usually $60 or above). Maybe part of it is parents being tired of 3-D (I know I am), perhaps it’s the film itself. Hollywood is not very good at selling things people want if they don’t have that brand name. It will be interesting to see how Arthur Christmas fares (it’s a nice small Christmas movie) and The Muppets in this regard.

Anyway, the weekend:

  1. Breaking Dawn – Part 1 - $153 Million
  2. Happy Feet Two – $34.5 Million
  3. Immortals – $15 Million
  4. Puss in Boots - $11.7 Million
  5. Jack and Jill – $10 Million

Huge numbers for Breaking Dawn is the story, it could go a little higher or lower, but again if it’s going to break records, it would be the last picture. Happy Feet Two could surge as tracking doesn’t really work on kids films. Or it could do less as parents wait a couple days to take their children to The Muppets.

What do you want to see this weekend?