Image from 'Four Christmases'
U.S. movie audiences stayed with tried-and-true genre films and rejected big-budget Hollywood Significance over the Thanksgiving weekend.

Leading the way to the second-biggest Thanksgiving weekend U.S. box office take ever, the Reese Witherspoon-Vince Vaughn comedy Four Christmases took in a healthy but not astonishing $31.7 million over the three-day period of Friday through Sunday. That raised its total to $46.7 million since its opening night last Wednesday.

The film’s strong performance reflects the power of its two stars, but both Witherspoon and Vaughn have appeared in some dogs lately, so it’s clear the comedy element was a big draw and the lack of any other Christmas movies in the theaters helped as well.

In second place was the animated canine comedy Bolt, with $26.6 million.

Finishing in nearly a dead heat with Bolt while enduring a steep decline (62 percent) from its surprising first-weekend performance was the teen vampire film Twilight, with a respectable weekend 2 total of $26.4 million.

(Side note: Comic writer Susan Konig has an amusing article on the appeal of Twilight and the rest of Stephanie Meyer’s vampire book series at National Review Online.)

It was a bad opening weekend for the ambitious epic Australia, starring Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman and directed by Baz Luhrman (Moulin Rouge). The film, set in Australia during World War II and featuring Kidman as a British aristocrat and Jackman as an Aussie ranchhand, didn’t grab audiences commensurate with the stars’ anticipated popularity, finishing fifth with $14.8 million, well behind the James Bond Quantum of Solace. Once again, ambition and lack of concern for audience enjoyment seem to have held back a big-budget Hollywood film.

Australia brought in only $2.5 million more than Transporter 3, the latest Jason Statham low-budget stuntfest.

Milk, starring Sean Penn as a slain San Francisco homosexual politician, opened fairly well at number 10 in a very limited number of theaters, taking in $1.4 million. Its per-theater take will surely drop precipitously when it goes into wider release this weekend, however.

Indulging in some typical elite snobbery, the Associated Press argues that movie audiences are staying away from more serious films because they wish to escape worries over the gloomy current state of the economy. That’s half right; as I’ve noted in earlier Monday movie roundups, audiences very seldom flock to depressing films, in the United States or elsewhere.

In addition, the title of the piece is not even half-right: "Best films of the season may be too heavy for holidays." The notion that Milk, Revolutionary Road, The Reader, Che, I’ve Loved You So Long, and Slumdog Millionaire are the best of anything has yet to be tested, as most of those films haven’t been released yet, but I’d be willing to bet that they’ll prove to be the "best" films of the season only to those already predisposed toward their often grim and bizarre and uniformly politically leftist story lines and obvious messages. The rest of us will continue to find meaning in animated dogs and teenage vampires.

And before dismissing the mass audience as a bunch of yahoos, ask yourself this: Which do you think shows more imagination and insight: the ability to see deeper meaning in the quotidian, or to bathe in the complacent cliches of didictic message movies?