The lowest box office weekend in more than three years was distinguished by Focus Features’ spectacular limited debut for Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and an excellent limited launch for Paramount’s Young Adult.

Meanwhile New Line’s ensemble rom-com open top of the charts through Warner Bros on $13.7m while Fox’s Jonah Hill comedy came in second on $10m. Overall box office reached its lowest level since September 2008.

Summit’s The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 1 fell two places to number three and stands at $259.5m after four weekends and $633m worldwide.

The Muppets is holding well and slipped 32% in its third weekend to rank number four on $65.8m through Buena Vista, while Sony/Aardman’s Arthur Christmas fell a mere 11% in its third weekend and is fifth on $33.5m.

Paramount’s Hugo directed by Martin Scorsese is regarded by many as an extraordinary work but the children’s story has failed to engage family audiences and stands at $33.5m after three weekends, which is not good news for GK Films given that Hugo must have been a costly production.

Fox Searchlight’s awards hopeful The Descendants, named best film by the Los Angeles Film Critics Association on Sunday (De 11), held firm at number seven after expanding by 302 to 876 theatres and added $4.8m for $23.6m after four weekends.

The Weinstein Company’s My Week With Marilyn fell two places to number 14 and has grossed $5.1m after three.

Outside the top 10, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy starring a who’s who of British male talent led by Gary Oldman, Colin Firth and Mark Strong arrived on $301,000 from four for a $75,250 per-theatre average.

Jason Reitman’s dark comedy Young Adult starring Oscar hopeful Charlize Theron opened on an excellent $320,000 from eight venues for a $40,000 per-theatre average.

TWC’s The Artist – named by the American Film Institute over the weekend – added $292,000 from 16 theatres after expanding by 10 for a highly promising $886,000 running total after three weekends. Fox Searchlight’s Shame has grossed a very solid $774,000 from 21 after expanding by 11 in the second weekend.

Oscilloscope Releasing opened its drama We Need To Talk About Kevin for an Oscar qualifying run on one screen at the Angelika Theatre in New York, where it grossed a strong $24,000. Tilda Swinton stars and Lynne Ramsay directed.

Next weekend’s wide releases are Warner Bros’ Sherlock Holmes: A Game Of Shadows starring Robert Downey Jr, Jude Law and Noomi Rapace and Fox’s Alvin And The Chipmunks: Chipwrecked.

Estimated Top 10 North America Dec 9-11, 2011
Film (Dist) / Est wkd gross / Est total to date

1 (-) New Year’s Eve (Warner Bros-New Line) WBPI $13.7m –

2 (-) The Sitter (Fox) $10m –

3 (1) The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 1 (Summit) Summit Int’l $7.9m $259.5m

4 (2) The Muppets (Buena Vista) WDSMPI $7.1m $65.8m

5 (4) Arthur Christmas (Sony) SPRI $6.6m $33.5m

6 (3) Hugo (Paramount) PPI/GK Films $6.1m $33.5m

7 (7) The Descendants (Fox Searchlight) Fox Int’l $4.8m $23.6m

8 (5) Happy Feet Two (Warner Bros) WBPI $3.8m $56.9m

9 (6) Jack And Jill (Sony) SPRI $3.2m $68.6m

10 (8) Immortals (Relativity) Lionsgate/Relativity/Universal $2.4m $79.9m