Jerry Seinfeld's animated comedy flew into first place on its second weekend, ''Fred Claus'' performed way under expectations, and the latest Cruise missile misfired

Bee Movie

Ho-ho-uh-oh! Despite expectations that Fred Claus would enjoy a holly-jolly box office debut, audiences treated the Vince Vaughn Christmas comedy like a naughty child, while Bee Movie wound up looking very nice as it moved into first place. Meanwhile, Tom Cruise scored one of the worst debuts of his career with Lions for Lambs.

But more about that in a moment, because I feel obliged to focus on the good news first: Thanks to a mere 32 percent decline, Bee Movie banked a strong $26 million on its second weekend to achieve the rare feat of opening out of the top spot before becoming No. 1 further down the road. To find similar celestial alignments, you have to go back to 2005’s Wedding Crashers and 2003’s Elf, both of which were long-running hits that bowed below first place; as long as the movie marketplace values first-weekend grosses above staying power, we may have to wait another two years before seeing the likes of this again. Regardless, it’s a (somewhat lucky) triumph for Bee Movie, whose prospects were looking a little iffy after it failed to draw a thoroughly young crowd or earn a victory in its first weekend. The film has earned $72.2 mil in 10 days and it stands to get a nice boost tomorrow, Veterans Day, when nearly 50 percent of kids are out of school.

Finishing a close second was last week’s top finisher, American Gangster, which dropped 44 percent to bank a still-stellar $24.3 mil. It’s 10-day cume is $80.7 mil, and with the upcoming docket filled with family fare, the Denzel Washington-Russell Crowe crime thriller appears poised to continue its long run.

As for what happened with Fred Claus, well, clearly that combination of poor reviews and stiff competition from Bee Movie stung. The movie earned just $19.2 mil, significantly below most expectations. Vaughn has never starred in a major PG-rated movie before, and it’s likely that he wasn’t as much of a draw for broader family crowds as he is for older folks. (According to CinemaScore, just 38 percent of viewers went to see Fred Claus because Vaughn is the film’s star, while the entire audience gave it a middling B grade.) Nevertheless, a $19.2 mil debut isn’t terrible and this movie could also benefit from the Monday holiday to gain some momentum.

Then there was Tom Cruise’s Lions for Lambs. Don’t worry, I won’t ignore it — although audiences sure did. The poorly reviewed political drama earned a mere $6.7 mil at No. 4, making it Cruise’s worst wide opener… well, pretty much ever (1986’s The Color of Money debuted with $6.4 mil, but that was at a time when a $6.4 mil gross was really good). And that lowly CinemaScore grade of C means that audiences won’t be telling their friends to go see Lions for Lambs in the weeks to come. Ouch!

Dan in Real Life rounded out the top five with a $5.8 mil take, while the only other major new release, the horror flick P2, scared up just $2.2 mil at No. 8. Meanwhile, the Coen Brothers’ latest thriller, No Country for Old Men (No. 15), which has garnered some of the year’s strongest reviews, earned a terrific $1.2 mil in 28 locations (that’s a huge $42,929 per-theater average).

Overall, though, box office was down more than 11 percent from the same weekend last year, and it remains off five percent versus last fall. Talk about a big lump of coal for Hollywood’s holiday stocking.