According to studio estimates Sunday, Sony's Bond tale "Skyfall" took in $11 million to move back to No. 1 in its fifth weekend.
That put it narrowly ahead of Paramount's "Rise of the Guardians," the animated adventure of Santa, the Easter Bunny and other mythological heroes that pulled in $10.5 million.
The two movies inched ahead of Summit Entertainment's "The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part 2," which had been tops for three-straight weekends. The "Twilight" finale earned $9.2 million, slipping into a tight race for No. 3 with Disney's "Lincoln," which was close behind with $9.1 million.
The top movies were bunched up so closely that rankings could change once final weekend revenues are released Monday.
The weekend's only new wide release, Gerard Butler's romantic comedy "Playing for Keeps," flopped with $6 million, coming in at No. 6.
"Skyfall" raised its domestic total to $261.6 million and added $20.3 million overseas to bring its international income to $656.6 million. At $918 million worldwide, "Skyfall" has the best cash haul ever for the Bond franchise and surpassed "Spider-Man 3" at $890 million to become Sony's top-grossing hit.
The "Twilight" finale also is a franchise record-breaker, surpassing the $710 million worldwide haul of last year's "Breaking Dawn - Part 1." The finale's domestic total now stands at $268.7 million.
It was another traditionally quiet post-Thanksgiving weekend, with big November releases continuing to dominate in the lull before a pre-Christmas onslaught of movies.
The box office is expected to soar next weekend with the arrival of part one of "The Hobbit," Peter Jackson's "The Lord of the Rings" prelude. After that comes a steady rush of action, comedy and drama through year's end, including Tom Cruise's "Jack Reacher," Quentin Tarantino and Jamie Foxx's "Django Unchained," Seth Rogen's "The Guilt Trip" and Hugh Jackman and Russell Crowe's "Les Miserables."
"The last couple of weeks of the year are some of the strongest every year," said Paul Dergarabedian, an analyst for box-office tracker Hollywood.com. "We are on the cusp of some really huge box office. There's a lot of money still left in the year despite this slow period right now."
Hollywood's domestic revenues have topped $10 billion so far this year, with the industry expected to finish 2012 ahead of the all-time high of $10.6 billion set in 2009.
Trashed savagely by critics, FilmDistrict's "Playing for Keeps" stars Butler as a washed-up soccer star trying to reconnect with his ex-wife (Jessica Biel) and young son. The all-star cast includes Catherine Zeta-Jones and Uma Thurman as soccer moms with the hots for Butler.
In limited release, Bill Murray's Franklin Roosevelt drama "Hyde Park on Hudson" opened solidly with $83,280 in four theaters, averaging a healthy $20,820 a cinema. By comparison, "Playing for Keeps" averaged $2,115 in 2,837 theaters.
Released by Focus Features, "Hyde Park on Hudson" stars Murray as Roosevelt, whose intimate relations with a distant cousin (Laura Linney) become both a source of strength and distraction as the president plays host to the king and queen of England on the eve of World War II.
Estimated ticket sales for Friday through Sunday at U.S. and Canadian theaters, according to Hollywood.com. Where available, latest international numbers are also included. Final domestic figures will be released Monday.
1. "Skyfall," $11 million ($20.3 million).
2. "Rise of the Guardians," $10.5 million ($26 million international).
3. "The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part 2," $9.2 million.
4. "Lincoln," $9.1 million.
5. "Life of Pi," $8.3 million.
6. "Playing for Keeps," $6 million.
7. "Wreck-It Ralph," $4.9 million ($5.8 million international).
8. "Red Dawn," $4.3 million.
9. "Flight," $3.1 million.
10. "Killing Them Softly," $2.7 million.
Universal and Focus are owned by NBC Universal, a unit of Comcast Corp.; Sony, Columbia, Sony Screen Gems and Sony Pictures Classics are units of Sony Corp.; Paramount is owned by Viacom Inc.; Disney, Pixar and Marvel are owned by The Walt Disney Co.; Miramax is owned by Filmyard Holdings LLC; 20th Century Fox and Fox Searchlight are owned by News Corp.; Warner Bros. and New Line are units of Time Warner Inc.; MGM is owned by a group of former creditors including Highland Capital, Anchorage Advisors and Carl Icahn; Lionsgate is owned by Lions Gate Entertainment Corp.; IFC is owned by AMC Networks Inc.; Rogue is owned by Relativity Media LLC.