Lionsgate’s extraordinary limited launch for the inner city drama Precious: Based On The Novel “Push” By Sapphire eclipsed the muted number one debut of Disney’s A Christmas Carol.

Precious, a hot awards contender featuring breakout performances from Gabourey Sidibe and Mo’Nique, scored the highest per-theatre average ever for a film opening in ten or more theatres as $1.8m from 18 theatres yielded $100,000 from each site.

Meanwhile A Christmas Carol launched at number one on an estimated $31m and Disney chiefs will hope the film plays well into the holiday season to recoup its substantial cost, believed to be more than $200m. Jim Carrey stars and Robert Zemeckis directed.

Adding to the sense of urgency for Disney is the imminent arrival in theatres of Fox’s Avatar, which will dominate 3D screens when it launches worldwide on December 16.

Sony’s Michael Jackson concert film This Is It slipped to second place in its second week on $14m for a lacklustre $57.9m. Paramount’s Paranormal Activity is on the cusp of $100m and ranks fifth on $8.6m for $97.4m after seven weeks.

Overture’s run of form at the box office continued as The Men Who Stare At Goats with George Clooney, Ewan McGregor and Jeff Bridges opened in third place on a solid $13.3m. Overture’s crime thriller Law Abiding Citizen in eighth place stands at $60.9m after four weeks.

Universal’s horror film The Fourth Kind starring Milla Jovovich opened in fourth place on $12.5m while Warner Bros/Media Rights Capital’s horror tale The Box with Cameron Diaz and James Marsden launched in sixth on a muted $7.9m.

Next weekend’s wide release is Sony’s disaster movie 2012 from Roland Emmerich that stars John Cusack.

Estimated Top 10 North America November 6-8 2009
Film (Dist) / Est wkd gross / Est total to date

1 (-) A Christmas Carol (Buena Vista) WDSMPI $31m –

2 (1) This Is It (Sony) SPRI $14m $57.9m

3 (-) The Men Who Stare At Goats (Overture) Mandate Int’l $13.3m –

4 (-) The Fourth Kind (Universal) UPI $12.5m –

5 (2) Paranormal Activity (Paramount) IM Global $8.6m $97.4m

6 (-) The Box (Warner Bros/MRC) TWC $7.9m –

7 (4) Couples Retreat (Universal) UPI $6.4m $95.9m

8 (3) Law Abiding Citizen (Overture) The Film Dept $6.2m $60.9m

9 (5) Where The Wild Things Are (Warner Bros) WBPI $4.2m $69.3m

10 (7) Astro Boy (Summit) Summit Int’l $2.6m $15.1m