"'Four Christmases' was set up perfectly. It's an evergreen subject for the holiday period," said Paul Dergarabedian, president of box office tracker Media By Numbers. "This is a movie that can play and is playing from Thanksgiving through the end of the year."
Despite the economic downturn, Hollywood continued to outperform last year's holiday season, with revenues up for the fifth weekend in a row.
The top 12 movies took in $77.5 million, a 6 percent increase from the same weekend in 2007, when "The Golden Compass" opened at No. 1 with $25.8 million.
Revenues for the year are at $8.7 billion, slightly ahead of the pace last year, when Hollywood ended up with record receipts of $9.7 billion. However, that reflects higher ticket prices, because actual attendance is down 4 percent, according to Media By Numbers.
Only one new movie opened in full wide release, Lionsgate's action tale "Punisher: War Zone," which delivered a weak No. 8 debut with $4 million. Based on Marvel Comics' "The Punisher," the movie stars Ray Stevenson in the title role as a vigilante hero going up against a crime boss.
In narrower release, Sony's music saga "Cadillac Records" opened solidly with $3.5 million to come in at No. 9. The film features Adrien Brody, Beyonce Knowles, Jeffrey Wright, Cedric the Entertainer and Mos Def in the story of legendary blues label Chess Records.
Ron Howard's drama "Frost/Nixon" had a huge debut in limited release, taking in $180,147 in just three theaters, averaging a whopping $60,049 a cinema. That compares to a $5,451 average in 3,335 theaters for "Four Christmases."
A likely contender for a best-picture nomination at the Academy Awards, the Universal Pictures film stars Frank Langella as former President Richard Nixon and Michael Sheen as TV personality David Frost in the story of their momentous 1977 interviews.
"Frost/Nixon" expands to more theaters over the next two weeks.
Sony's James Bond sequel "Quantum of Solace" took in $6.6 million to raise its domestic total to $151.5 million. The film topped the $500 million mark worldwide.
Estimated ticket sales for Friday through Sunday at U.S. and Canadian theaters, according to Media By Numbers LLC. Final figures will be released Monday.
1. "Four Christmases," $18.2 million. 2. "Twilight," $13.2 million. 3. "Bolt," $9.7 million. 4. "Australia," $7 million. 5. "Quantum of Solace," $6.6 million. 6. "Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa," $5.1 million. 7. "Transporter 3," $4.5 million. 8. "Punisher: War Zone," $4 million. 9. "Cadillac Records," $3.5 million. 10. "Role Models," $2.6 million.