LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Romantic comedy "New Year's Eve" topped the domestic movie box office during the weekend but Hollywood had little to celebrate as North American ticket sales slumped to their lowest level in three years.
"New Year's Eve" led the charts with a disappointing $13.7 million at U.S. and Canadian theaters, according to studio estimates compiled by Reuters on Sunday. The movie added $12.9 million from international markets, for a combined global debut of $26.6 million, distributor Warner Bros. said.
New adult comedy "The Sitter," starring Jonah Hill as a reluctant babysitter, finished second with an estimated $10 million domestically from Friday through Sunday. The newest "Twilight" vampire romance movie, winner of the past three weekends, slipped to third place with $7.9 million.
Overall ticket sales in the United States and Canada came in weak, down nearly 16 percent from the same weekend a year ago at $77.4 million, according to Hollywood.com Box Office. That ranked as the lowest weekend total since September 2008 and followed a sluggish performance a week ago.
"This has been a very tough two weeks at the box office," said Paul Dergarabedian, president of Hollywood.com Box Office, who blamed the decline on a lack of male-oriented films.
Studios are hoping to turn that around in the coming weeks by cramming several big-budget action movies into theaters around Christmas. They include "Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows," "Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol" and "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo."
For this weekend, "New Year's Eve" failed to reach studio projections of at least $17 million domestically.
Even so, "we did well in a very miserable weekend," said Dan Fellman, head of domestic distribution for Warner Bros. The studio hopes the holiday theme will appeal in the coming weeks, he said.
"New Year's Eve" follows a series of intertwining stories centered around the traditional ball drop in New York's Times Square. It features an all-star lineup including Robert De Niro, Halle Berry, Ashton Kutcher, Hilary Swank, Sofia Vergara, Michelle Pfeiffer, Lea Michele and Jon Bon Jovi.
The movie tanked with critics, with only 6 percent giving a positive review on aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes. Audiences were more positive and rated the movie a B+ on average, according to exit polling firm CinemaScore.
For "The Sitter," studio 20th Century Fox said ticket sales reached its pre-release expectations. "Given the softness in the marketplace, I think we did well," said Chris Aronson, the studio's senior vice president for domestic distribution.
While no longer on top of domestic charts, vampires and werewolves still drew fans around the world to the fourth "Twilight" movie. Global sales for "The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn: Part 1" reached $633.5 million since its debut.
A revival of "The Muppets" brought in $7.1 million domestically over the weekend, landing Kermit and his puppet friends in fourth place. The film has grossed $71.6 million worldwide through three weekends in theaters.
"Arthur Christmas," a 3D animated family film that explains how Santa delivers presents around the world in one night, landed if fifth place with $6.6 million. The movie has generated $91 million worldwide to date.
"New Year's Eve" was produced by New Line Cinema, a unit of Time Warner Inc's Warner Bros., the studio that distributed the film. News Corp's 20th Century Fox studio released "The Sitter." Privately held Summit Entertainment released "Breaking Dawn."
"The Muppets" was released by Walt Disney Co, and Sony distributed "Arthur Christmas."
Reporting by Lisa Richwine; Editing by Bill Trott