Thanksgiving Box OfficeWas everyone in a tryptophan coma this weekend from eating too much turkey? Is that why no one went to the movies?

Expectations were high for this Thanksgiving weekend's box office. After all, it's the long weekend that kicks off the holiday box office season, complete with action blockbusters and family-friendly movies alike. Last year, Thanksgiving weekend saw "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire" enjoy a second-weekend take of $74.2 million, saw "Frozen" open wide to the tune of $67.4 million, and saw "Thor: The Dark World" and "The Best Man Holiday" grab a few million extra bucks.

This year? Not so hot. Box office was down a full 16.7 percent from last weekend and 22.2 percent from the same weekend a year ago. New releases "Penguins of Madagascar" and "Horrible Bosses 2" were both underachievers, with "Penguins" coming in $5 to $10 million below projections and "Bosses" also lagging behind predictions by about $12 million. The current "Hunger Games" fell by 53 percent from its debut last weekend, about the same second-week decline as last year's installment, but that means "Mockingjay – Part 1" is still $70.6 million behind where "Catching Fire" was at the same point in its theatrical run.

Besides gluttony-induced stupors, then, what kept moviegoers at home this weekend?

Well, one Thanksgiving lesson: People like their leftovers relatively fresh, not defrosted and warmed-over. At the multiplex, that meant that recent movies held on well, but the two new sequels did not. Among the holdovers, besides' "Mockingjay – Part 1"'s estimated $56.9 million from Friday to Sunday, "Big Hero 6" dropped just 7 percent from a week ago and grabbed another estimated $18.8 million," while "Interstellar" actually rose 3 percent for an estimated $15.8 million. But with the sequels – well, it's been more than two years since the last "Madagascar" movie, and while the penguins have been popular supporting characters, especially on TV, was anyone really holding their breath for a movie featuring the mischievous waddlers in starring roles? And was anyone clamoring, after more than three years, for a sequel to "Horrible Bosses," a one-joke movie that, however well-executed, pretty much played that joke out in the initial installment?

Second lesson: Not every family-friendly cartoon is "Frozen," and not every raunchy R-rated comedy is "The Hangover."

Third, it's not clear that Thanksgiving is even a good time to release a raunchy, R-rated comedy. Those movies tend to do well in the summertime (as the first "Horrible Bosses" did), but at family times like Thanksgiving, who's going to want to see that kind of fare?

Fourth, DreamWorks animation has been in something of a slump lately, with movies like "Rise of the Guardians" (another holiday underperformer), "Turbo," and even this year's not-quite-a-hit "Mr. Peabody and Sherman." The new "Penguins" did enjoy good reviews and very strong word-of-mouth (measured by an A- grade at CinemaScore), so the problem isn't necessarily in the execution. Something else seems to be going wrong at the House of Shrek.

Fifth, the acclaim for "Penguins" aside, execution does matter. Last week, it was clear that even avid "Hunger Games" fans found "Mockingjay – Part 1" wanting. This weekend, "Bosses 2" earned largely negative reviews and just so-so word-of-mouth (a B+ at CinemaScore). To the extent that those movies courted older viewers who care about reviews, that bad buzz had to hurt.

Finally, with all the distractions from football to travel trauma to Black Friday shopping (which is increasingly Black Thursday-Afternoon-While-You're-Still-Digesting-Your-Turkey shopping), maybe we're expecting too much from the Thanksgiving box office. Sure, it's possible that "Penguins" could have finished the five-day weekend with $40 to $45 million as projected instead of an estimated $36.0 million – or "Horrible Bosses 2" with the predicted $35 million instead of an estimated $23.0 million and a fifth-place debut – but only if moviegoers didn't have anything else to keep them occupied this weekend.

The news wasn't all bad for new releases. If you were one of the few people who could score tickets to "The Imitation Game" at one of the four venues nationwide where it debuted this weekend, then you helped the Oscar-hopeful drama earn an estimated $482,000, or an astonishing $120,518 per theater. That's the best per-screen average for any movie this year except "The Grand Budapest Hotel," and it bodes well for the film's overall box office once it opens wide. But judging by the way this weekend's much-hyped sequels fared, that was the only imitation the Thanksgiving holiday audience really wanted to see.

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categories Movies, Box Office