With Leonardo DiCaprio's The Wolf of Wall Street moving from this weekend to a Christmas Day release, box-office analysts expected a particularly easy win for Thor: The Dark World, in only its second weekend of release.
Instead, the god of thunder nearly got a beatdown from The Best Man Holiday, the latest ethnically-diverse film to score a hit this year.
With a boost from from teen moviegoers on Saturday, Thor squeaked out the win for the second straight weekend with $38.5 million, according to studio estimates from Rentrak.
But the story of the weekend was Holiday, a sequel that arrived 14 years after the original, sported a budget of just $17 million and was marketed specifically to African-American women. Still, Holiday collected $30.6 million, more than twice what many analysts projected.
Cultures have been hot sellers at the turnstiles this year:
Fruitvale Station: The $900,000 true-life drama about a black Bay Area man shot to death by transit officers has done $16 million.
Lee Daniels' The Butler: The $30 million true story of a black White House butler was the box-office surprise of summer at $115 million.
12 Years a Slave: Another true-life story, the $20 million Slave has done a solid $25 million on 1,200 screens, and will see an uptick in sales if it lands its expected Oscar nominations.
Other niche audiences are propelling films this year. The $5 million comedy Instructions Not Included enjoyed the largest U.S. opening for a Spanish-language film when it debuted to $10 million in August.
With a decidedly lighter tone than Fruitvale, Butler and Slave, Holiday marked the biggest question mark for analysts. But the film earned thumbs-up from 63% of critics, says Rottentomatoes.com, and moviegoers gave it a collective A-minus, says pollsters CinemaScore.
The film even took a brief ticket sales lead over Thor, earning $10.7 million over the comic-book hero's $10.4 million. Fanboys, though, staged a late-weekend comeback for their hero.
Still, the buzz was Holiday's early Christmas gift to distributor Universal Pictures. Box Office Mojo's Ray Subers says that while the 1999 original was only a modest hit at $34 million, its video sales remained strong as stars Taye Diggs, Terrence Howard and Morris Chestnut saw their stars rise.
The studio smartly emphasized that Holiday "functions as a reunion, both for the characters and for the actors," Subers says. "These themes align nicely with the holiday season."
The comedy Last Vegas was third with $8.9 million,followed by the animated comedy Free Birds with $8.3 million. The Jackass installment Bad Grandpa rounded out the top five with $7.7 million. Final figures are due Monday.
Analysts say that while Thor can claim the crown, Holiday's cast and devotees can crack the Champagne, much as they did 14 years ago. "Best Man Holiday fans stole the show," suggests Toddy Cunningham, box-office columnist for trade website Thewrap.com. "By partying like it was 1999."
Don't forget guys - movies with non-white casts? 'Race-themed'