SATURDAY PM, 4TH UPDATE: What a shocker! DreamWorks Animation/Paramount’s Puss In Boots claws its way to #1 tonight with $15.5M Saturday and will win the weekend with an estimated $33M. That’s just -10% off snow-affected Halloween weekend opening. “I guess the strategy of getting out a week early to build word-of-mouth worked,” a studio exec emails me tonight. It easily beat Universal’s much-buzzed Tower Heist which made $10M Saturday for only a $25M weekend. (This is like when Cowboys & Aliens got Smurf-ed over the summer.) Sources are telling me that the Brett Ratner-directed comedy caper starring Ben Stiller and Eddie Murphy is weak overseas as well: just 3rd in the UK and 5th in Germany, for instance. New Line/Warner Bros’ A Very Harold And Kumar 3D Christmas eked out $5.5M Saturday for a disappointing $14.5M weekend, less than the previous 2D installment Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay‘s $14.9M weekend opening. Both Tower Heist and Harold And Kumar 3D received ‘B’ CinemaScores from audiences. Here’s the Top 10:

1. Puss In Boots 3D (DreamWorks Anim/Paramount) Week 2 [3,963 Theaters]
Friday $7.8M, Saturday $15.3M, Weekend $34M (-10%), Cume $76.5M

2. Tower Heist (Universal) NEW [3,367 Theaters]
Friday $8.1M, Saturday $10.5M, Weekend $24.6M

Moore Man
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3. Harold And Kumar 3D Christmas (NL/Warner Bros) NEW [2,875 theaters]
Friday $5.5M, Saturday $4.7M, Weekend $13M

4. Paranormal Activity 3 (Paramount) Week 3 [3,286 Theaters]
Friday $2.9M, Saturday $3.7M, Weekend $8.5M, Cume $95.3M

5. In Time (Twentieth Century Fox) Week 2 [3,127 Theaters]
Friday $2.5M, Saturday $3.2M, Weekend $7.8M, Cume $24.3M

6. Footloose (Paramount) Week 4 [2,811 Theaters]
Friday $1.4M, Saturday $2.1M, Weekend $4.8M, Cume $45M

7. Real Steel (DreamWorks/Disney) Week 5 [2,438 Theaters]
Friday $925K, Saturday $1.6M, Weekend $3.5M, Cume $78.8M

8. The Rum Diary (FilmDistrict) Week 2 [2,292 Theaters]
Friday $980K, Saturday $1.1M, Weekend $2.9M, Cume $10.3M

9. Ides Of March (Sony) Week 5 [1,391 Theaters]
Friday $600K, Saturday $925K, Weekend $2M, Cume $36.8M

10. Moneyball (Sony) Week 7 [1,278 Theaters]
Friday $575K, Saturday $875K, Weekend $1.9M, Cume $70.3M

FRIDAY PM/SATURDAY AM, 3RD UPDATE: Hang on tight, folks, because this is turning into a bumpy ride. North American box office is still unsettlingly weak just as it’s been since the beginning of August. This weekend’s total gross is running a bad -25% behind last year’s. “The fear is that our total business is in the toilet,” one studio executive sighed to me tonight. Friday’s numbers were too ill-defined for me to declare hits and misses early on. But now, in a big surprise, DreamWorks Animation’s week-old 3D holdover Puss In Boots distributed by Paramount looks like it’s giving Universal’s 2D Tower Heist a run for #1 by Monday morning because of higher ticket prices and more theater bookings. One studio already is counting on the cat beating the cons. Remember, last weekend’s surprise East Coast snowstorm and power outage resulted in the toon’s mediocre debut. The tie depends on Saturday when strong family matinees may swamp nighttime adults at the multiplexes. (Uh-oh: is this another Smurfs beats Cowboys & Aliens situation in the works? But, unlike expensive C&A, the studio claims TH cost only $85M.) Universal was hoping for a late-night surge of African-American and Latino audiences that never materialized.

New Line/Warner Bros’ unabashed raunchfest A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas looks surprisingly at the low end of expectations despite the 3D surcharge. Yet it had been tracking well for weeks. This opening is about the same result as the 2D sequel but I wonder if there weren’t enough cheaper theaters booked. After all, its 2,875 runs had 2,943 3D screens. “Maybe Nikki Rocco and Dan Fellman should call off their blood feud,” one rival studio exec suggested to me tonight. “For the second time this year, Universal and Warner opened comedies on the same weekend. Last time was Your Highness and Arthur – and for the second time both pictures will underperform.” Full analysis coming.

12:30 PM: Hollywood studios are worried that the recent box office slump in North America will hurt what is supposed to be a big weekend kicking off the holiday movie season. Already executives are looking for less. “Based on our noon averages, the overall marketplace looks very soft right now,” one exec emails me. Insiders tell me that Universal’s Tower Heist opened with $85K in midnight shows and easily takes #1 today with anywhere from $7.5M to $10.5M depending on the degree of date night wannasee in 3,367 theaters. What was once thought a sure-thing $35+M first weekend is now projected to eke out $30M as if it were an R-rated action comedy like Due Date (32.7M opening) which Uni execs keep using as a comp. But Tower Heist is actually PG-13 directed by Brett Ratner and starring Eddie Murphy and Ben Stiller so should be earning much more. Nevertheless, any double-digit number with a ‘3’ in front of it is reason to celebrate in these days of lowered expectations as young males have abandoned the multiplexes since August. “Tower Heist looks good. Got big break when Puss In Boots moved up,” a source tells me about the Oceans Eleven-style heist movie intended to appeal more to adults. (But I’ve been worried about those trailers that don’t depict even one genuinely funny line or scene.) Tower Heist opens day and date overseas in 21 territories including the UK, Germany, Hong Kong, Sweden, Austria, Taiwan, Spain, India, and South Africa.

DreamWorks Animation’s Puss In Boots distributed by Paramount will have very good hold off last Friday’s/Saturday’s freak East Coast snowstorm and funky Halloween weekend with a $25M outcome for #2. New Line/Warner Bros’ low-budget A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas debuted after midnight in 1,000 locations for $550K which is a franchise best but also the first 3D installment with higher ticket prices. It opens wide today in 2,875 runs with 2,943 3D screens and expectations are for a $4.5M to $5.5M Friday debut to finish #3 with $19M finish which, again, is a gift in these soft attendance times.

As I said previously, worst case scenario this weekend is that Tower Heist can’t crack $30M, Puss In Boots holds for less than $20M, and A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas winds up low to mid teens. Don’t expect any other pics to even collect $7M.