FINAL UPDATE MONDAY, 1:08PM: As expected, Big Hero 6 cruised to the top of the box office weekend. Not so expected: Chris Nolan’s saga Interstellar fell short of $50M. Distrib Paramount insisted that the sci-fi genre and film’s record IMAX run would keep Sunday drops to a minimum and help the weekend become one of only four ever feature two moviesing open north of $50M. But it fell short.

Not an issue for BH6, which landed right within estimates and, given the dearth of family fare and its strong exits, should have a solid run into Thanksgiving. It’s exits are terrific, it’s got an A CinemaScore, and kids are notorious repeat viewers,.

But a standard Sunday fall for Interstellar kept the film from the $50M mark, or even Paramount’s Sunday estimates. Still, for a nearly three-hour film that’s scored solid exits and is blazing overseas (see Anthony D’Alessandro and Nancy Tartaglione’s terrific global analysis), no one will weep over returns.

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You may shed a tear, however, for Before I Go To Sleep, the Nicole Kidman-Colin firth drama dropped 82%, barely making 20th place on the charts. Other indies face better fates. St. Vincent and Birdman continue to see minimal drops, particularly Birdman, which doubled its screen count this weekend and continued to orbit the top 10.

The actuals:

1). Big Hero 6 (DIS), 3,761 theaters / 3-day cume: $56.2M / Wk 1
2). Interstellar (PAR), 3,561 theaters / 3-day cume: $46.7M/ Total cume: $48.9M (Note: Par estimates a 3-day of. cume of $47.5M and an overall cume of $49.6M/ Wk 1
3). Gone Girl (FOX), 2,224 theaters (-612) / 3-day cume: 6.2M/ Total cume: $145.5M / Wk 6
4). Ouija (UNI), 2,680 theaters (-219) /3-day cume: $5.8M / Total cume: $43.3 / Wk 3
5). Fury (SONY), 2,834 theaters (-479) / 3-day cume: $5.6M / Total cume: $69.3M / Wk 4
6). St. Vincent (TWC), 2,455 theaters (-97) / 3-day cume: $5.4M / Total cume: $27M / Wk 5
7). Nightcrawler (OPRD), 2,766 theaters (0) /3-day cume: $5.3M (-49%) / Total cume: $19.6M / Wk 2
8). John Wick (LGF), 2,152 theaters (-437) /3-day cume: $4.1M / Total cume: $34.8M / Wk 3
9). Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day (DIS), 2,381 theaters (-515) /3-day cume: $3.5M / Total cume: $59.2M / Wk 5
10). The Book of Life (FOX), 2,166 theaters (-628) /3-day cume: $2.7M / Total cume: $45.1M / Wk 4
11). Birdman (FSL), 462 theaters (+231) /3-day cume: $2.3M / Total cume: $8M/Wk 4
12). The Judge (WB), 1,215 theaters (-727)/ 3-day cume: $1.7 M/ Total cume: $ 42.5M/ Wk 5
13). The Best of Me (Relativity), 1,110 theaters (-1,1217)/ 3-day cume: $1.4M/ Total cume: 24.4M/ Wk 4
14). The Maze Runner (FOX) 1,012 theaters (-606)/ 3-day cume: 1.2M/ Total cume: $98.8M/ Wk 8
15). Dracula Untold (UNI), 830 theaters (-1,083)/ 3-day cume: 1M/ Total cume: $54.9M/ Wk 5
16). The Equalizer (SNY), 616 theaters (-492)/ 3-day cume: $915K/ Total cume: $98M/ Wk 7
17). Annabelle (WB), 630 theaters (-1,125)/ 3-day cume: $531K/ Total cume: $83.5M/ Wk 6
18). Guardians of the Galaxy (DIS), 296 theaters (-38)/ 3-day cume: $419K/ Total cume: $330M/ Wk 15
19). Dear White People (Roadside), 177 theaters (-215)/ 3-day cume: $392K/ Total cume: $3.5M/ Wk 4
20). Before I Go To Sleep (Freestyle), 820 theaters (1,115)/ 3-day cume: $331K (-82%)/ Total cume: $2.9M/ Wk 2

UPDATE, MONDAY, 10:25 AM: By most all distributor accounts, Big Hero 6 is right in line with Sunday’s estimates of $56M, But despite Paramount’s best efforts yesterday, Interstellar is sitting right around $46.3M to $46.7M (with only one estimate higher than that) and a cume of $48.9M. Paramount, however, is reporting that its sci-fi saga did $47.5M and a cume total of $49.6M. Yes, those in the know are rolling their eyes again at the studio’s reportage of grosses. So, the big-budget, Christopher Nolan-directed, lengthy effort did not break $50M in its opening weekend, neither in three-day gross nor the final tally — as Deadline’s calculations showed yesterday.

Despite everyone’s calculations, Paramount forged ahead and put their aggressive gross estimate out Sunday to grab $50M headlines in media outlets around the country. Yes, we’ve seen this done before (cough! Transformers). Final grosses for the top two box office newcomers and the Top 20 will come later today so stay tuned.

7TH UPDATE, SUNDAY, 8:38 AM: With some canny rummaging through its Marvel catalog, Disney pulled off a $56M weekend and another comic-book crown with Big Hero 6’s No. 1 in a robust frame that also featured the launch of Christopher Nolan’s sci-fi odyssey Interstellar.

Paramount is reporting that its Matthew McConaughey-starrer will finish the weekend at $50 million, $52.1 million if you count Thursday night previews; distribution sources tell Deadline they estimate the number will fall below $50 million, but Paramount expressed utmost confidence its estimate will pan out. That puts the film within expectations of how it would stack up against a family film; by contract, Interstellar is expected to play through the holiday as adult audiences find their way to it.

Like Guardians of the Galaxy, BH6 found a potent combo that suggests Disney’s future template for the comic-book adaptations that are scheduled to overwhelm studio slates for the next half decade. Decidedly less dark than its DC counterparts, BH6 twinned family audiences with fanboys of the relatively obscure comic, a combination that helped make Guardians the year’s unlikely box office king so far, despite opening in normally barren August.

Alternately, BH6 splashed down on a high-profile weekend, challenging Paramount’s 169-minute space opera from Nolan. And while Interstellar acquitted itself with a respectable bow (Par says $50 million, while our sources cite $47M (thanks largely to an unprecedented domestic IMAX rollout, which collected $13.4M), it was, unsurprisingly, surpassed by the four-quadrant appeal of BH6’s demographic umbrella.  BH6 drew parents, kids and a surprising number of young adults familiar with the crime-fighting team, which made its first Marvel appearance in 1998. And, like Guardians, it’s not hard to imagine BH6 will get the Disney franchise treatment with a sequel.

Interstellar, meanwhile, didn’t quite reach the stratosphere, also unsurprising given the film’s running time and sophisticated concept informed by knotty questions about the nature of time and space. Nolan’s films always have those, and the films usually exhibit strong carryover. Paramount puts the Matthew McConaugheyAnne Hathaway film right at $50M, saying that the film’s record 368-screen domestic IMAX run will keep Sunday drops to a minimum. Regardless, BH6 interrupted a Nolan streak: his last four movies opened in the top weekend slot over the past dozen years. The others were the Dark Knight Trilogy and Inception.

Megan Colligan, Paramount’s president of worldwide distribution and marketing, said that while the studio didn’t plan to add screens next weekend, it would continue promoting the film through the holiday. “Word of mouth is consistently great, and we’re going to treat every Friday through Thanksgiving like we’re just opening the movie.”

Its global IMAX take totaled $20.6M, besting The Hunger Games: Catching Fire‘s $17.1M. For more international box office, make sure to check out Nancy Tartaglione’s analyses.

st-vincent-movie-reviewsWhat’s kept fall revenues churning this year (up 5 percent over fall 2013) isn’t the arrival of titan blockbusters, but the legs of holdovers, a trend that underscores strong word of mouth for early Awards Season entries. Bill Murray’s charmer St. Vincent hovers around the top five after five weeks in release. Gone Girl hasn’t left the top five after a month and a half.

On the indie front, the Stephen Hawking biopic The Theory of Everything led the charge this weekend with a sterling $207K on just five screens. Brian Brooks has more in his specialty box office column.

The Sunday charts:

1). Big Hero 6 (DIS), 3,761 theaters / $15.7M Fri. (includes $1.4M late nights) / $23.95M Sat. (+52%)/ $16.7M Sun. (-%)/ 3-day est. cume: $56.3 / Wk 1

2). Interstellar (PAR), 3,561 theaters / $16.75 Fri. (includes $2.7M Thursday) Par estimates $17.04 million / $18.1M Sat. (+8%) Par estimates $18.446 million/ $11.7M Sun. (-35%) Paramount estimates $14.55 million / 3-day est. cume: $46.5M Paramount places the number at $50 million cume/ Total cume: $48.7M (includes $2.15M previews) Paramount places the total cume at $52.15 million/ Wk 1

3). Gone Girl (FOX), 2,224 theaters (-610) / $1.8M Fri. / $2.8M Sat. (+51%) / $1.5M Sun. (-45%) / 3-day est. cume: $6.15M / Total cume: $145.4M / Wk 6

4). Ouija (UNI), 2,680 theaters (-219) / $1.9M Fri. / $2.7M Sat. (+42%) / $1.3M Sun. (-50%) / 3-day est. cume: $5.9M / Total cume: $43.4 / Wk 3

5). Fury (SONY), 2,834 theaters (-479) / $1.6M Fri. / $2.4M Sat. (+46%) / $1.35M Sun. (-44%)/ 3-day est. cume: $5.5M / Total cume: $69.2M / Wk 4

6). St. Vincent (TWC), 2,455 theaters (-97) / $1.6M Fri. / $2.4M Sat. (+53%)/ $M Sun. (-%)/ 3-day est. cume: $5.3M / Total cume: $27M+ / Wk 5

7). Nightcrawler (OPRD), 2,766 theaters (0) / $1.6 Fri. / $2.25M Sat. (+40%)/ $1.4M Sun. (-38%) /3-day est. cume: $5.3M (-49%) / Total cume: $19.55M / Wk 2

8). John Wick (LGF), 2,152 theaters (-437) / $1.2M Fri. / $1.7M Sat. (+42%) / $1.08M Sun. (-38%)/ 3-day est. cume: $4M / Total cume: $34.7M / Wk 3

9). Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day (DIS), 2,381 theaters (-515) / $925K Fri. / $1.6M Sat. (+79%)/ $988K Sun. (-40%) / 3-day est. cume: $3.5M / Total cume: $59.25M / Wk 5
 
10). The Book of Life (FOX), 2,166 theaters (-628) / $665K Fri. / $1.2M Sat. (+81%) / $902K Sun. (-25%) / 3-day est. cume: $2.7M / Total cume: $45M / Wk 4

11). Birdman (FSL), 462 theaters (+231) / $671K Fri. / $1M Sat. (+50%) / $579K Sun. (-42%) / 3-day est. cume: $M / Total cume: $2.25M / Wk 4

Noteworthy:The Theory of Everything (FOCUS), 5 theaters / $61K Fri. / $86K Sat. (+40%) / $60K Sun. (-30%) /3-day cume: $207K / Per screen Avg: $41K / Wk 1

6TH UPDATE, SATURDAY, 11:21 PM: Animation will conquer live-action once again in the weekend’s high-profile box office brawl between Disney’s Big Hero 6 and Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar — though neither could be considered a loser. BH6 settled into its expected kid-propelled groove Saturday, claiming the daily box office to set up its sprint through Sunday and a likely first-place cume of $56M. While that’s lower than some projections, which ran as high as $65M, the bow is impressive considering the competition: a cloaked-in-mystery science fiction opus in Interstellar.

No matter. There was no stopping the weekend juggernauts, which both boasted rabid fan bases: families and parents for BH6, fanboys and older moviegoers for Interstellar. The well-reviewed films — BH6 landed an A CinemaScore, Interstellar a B+ — traded body blows over the weekend as Interstellar claimed Friday’s late-night crowds and BH6 the Saturday race, typically dominated by families.

Similar brawls have played out three times earlier between animated film vs. live action: Monsters University versus World War Z; Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa vs. Prometheus; and Wall E vs. Wanted. Every contest went to the animated pic, though the tete-a-tete resulted in  heated up grosses, and this weekend should see an uptick over business in comparison to the same weekend last year, which got a sizable surge from Thor: The Dark World’s $85.7M bow. And even if Interstellar doesn’t crack $50M, it will be only the second time two November movies opened above $40M — and an animated flick won that battle, too, as Happy Feet ($41.5M) edged out Casino Royale ($40.8M).

With strong exits, BH6 tapped into a family market that was actually out in force Friday. When Thursday night sneaks are removed, BH6’s Friday gross ran neck-in-neck with Interstellar’s. Beyond the weekend, BH6 is well-suited for a largely uncontested run through November until Fox’s Penguins of Madagascar from DreamWorks Animation arrives Nov. 26.

Interstellar got much of its boost from IMAX theaters, which accounted for more than a quarter of the movie’s overall gross, despite constituting only about 10% of Interstellar’s 3,500 screen count. Despite a respectable bow, Interstellar will mark the first Nolan film in 12 years not to bow at No. 1. The last time that happened was in 2002, when Insomnia opened in third place.

The back of the pack featured a smaller horse race among holdovers, some of which have demonstrated surprising stamina. Gone Girl, especially, refuses to be gone from the Top Five. Powered by outstanding Saturday grosses, GG will probably take a third-place finish a month and a half after its release.

Indie films haven’t found many perches this fall near to the top of the charts, but they continue to turn decent per-screen business that should keep them in theaters into the heart of awards season. The Oscar-hopeful Stephen Hawking pic The Theory of Everything had its weekend’s specialty debut on five screens, collecting about $40K per location (and considerable buzz for leading man Eddie Redmayne). Continuing to spread its wings is Birdman, which doubled to 462 screens this weekend but has dropped less than 15% per weekend and has hovered around the Top Ten since its release a month ago.

The Saturday night charts:

1). Big Hero 6 (DIS), 3,761 theaters / $15.8M Fri. (includes $1.4M late nights) / $23.7M to $24M Sat. / 3-day est. cume: $56M+ / Wk 1

2). Interstellar (PAR), 3,561 theaters / $16.75 Fri. (includes $2.7M Thursday) / $18.4M to $18.7M Sat. / 3-day est. cume: $47M to $48M / Total cume: $49M to $50M (includes $2.15M previews) / Wk 1

3). Gone Girl (FOX), 2,224 theaters (-610) / $1.8M Fri. / $2.8M Sat. / 3-day est. cume: $6.1M / Total cume: $145M+ / Wk 6

4). Ouija (UNI), 2,680 theaters (-219) / $1.9M Fri. / $2.7M Sat. / 3-day est. cume: $5.9M / Total cume: $43M+ / Wk 3

5). Fury (SONY), 2,834 theaters (-479) / $1.6M Fri. / $2.4M Sat. / 3-day est. cume: $5.4M / Total cume: $69M / Wk 4

5TH UPDATE, SATURDAY, 7:23 AM: Having weathered Interstellar’s Friday storm with a solid showing of its own, Disney’s Big Hero 6 was well-situated Saturday for a weekend run that will take it to the top spot at the box office.

Interstellar collected about $16.7M on Friday, giving it first-place briefly and putting it on course for a healthy $52M to $53M, if estimates hold.

But we’re entering Disney’s wheelhouse — the weekend — and with a dearth of family fare in cineplexes, the studio’s Marvel adaptation looks to hit the afterburners to eclipse Christopher Nolan’s sci-fi odyssey. With a Friday gross of $15.7M, which suggests strong adult interest as well, the animated crime fighting tale should see a bump in Saturday grosses of at least 60% (compared with Interstellar’s expected surge of 25%). That will propel the PG film, which earned an A CinemaScore and strong exits, to a weekend haul of $56M to $59M.

The rest of pack is far behind and neck and neck, with Gone Girl, Ouija, Fury, Nightcrawler and St. Vincent jockeying for positions 3-7 and flirting with 3-day cumes of $5.3M to $6M. Though they won’t cannibalize business from the weekend’s demographic-specific newcomers, the films continue to demonstrate strong legs, with drops at less than 50%. That will continue to fuel fall’s strong revenue rebound, up nearly 5% from fall last year after a dismal summer slate.

f91f890662_birdman-aBut the holdover of the weekend is Birdman, Michael Keaton’s one-take flick about a washed up cinematic superhero. It expanded to 462 screens this weekend, a bump of 231 theaters. But after a month of release, it’s dropping less than 15% per weekend and is flirting with a $2M weekend and a cume of $7.9M.

The Saturday estimates:

1). Big Hero 6 (DIS), 3,761 theaters / $15.8M Fri. (includes $1.4M late nights) / 3-day est. cume: $56M to $59M+ / Wk 1

2). Interstellar (PAR), 3,561 theaters / $16.75M Fri. (includes $2.7M Thursday) / 3-day est. cume: $52M to $53M / Total cume: $54.2M (includes $2.15M previews) / Wk 1

3). Gone Girl (FOX), 2,224 theaters (-610) / $1.8M Fri. / 3-day est. cume: $6M/ Total cume: $145M / Wk 6

4). Ouija (UNI), 2,680 theaters (-219) / $1.9M Fri. / 3-day est. cume: $5.7MM / Total cume: $43M / Wk 3

5). Fury (SONY), 2,834 theaters (-479) / $1.6M Fri. / 3-day est. cume: $5.5M / Total cume: $69M / Wk 4

6). Nightcrawler (OPRD), 2,766 theaters (0) / $1.6 Fri. / 3-day est. cume: $5.5M (-44%) / Total cume: $19M / Wk 2

7). St. Vincent (TWC), 2,455 theaters (-97) / $1.6M Fri. / 3-day est. cume: $5.3M / Total cume: $27M+ / Wk 5

8). John Wick (LGF), 2,152 theaters (-437) / $1.2M Fri. / 3-day est. cume: $4.1M / Total cume: $34M+ / Wk 3

9). Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day (DIS), 2,381 theaters (-515) / $900K Fri. /3-day est. cume: $3.6M / Total cume: $59M+ / Wk 5

10). The Book of Life (FOX), 2,166 theaters (-628) / $650K Fri. / 3-day est. cume: $3M+ / Total cume: $45M / Wk 4

NOTEWORTHY:  27). The Theory of Everything (FOCUS), 5 theaters / $58K Fri. / 3-day cume: $200K / Per screen: $40K / Wk 1

4th UPDATE, Friday, 11:15 PM: While it looks as if Interstellar claimed Friday’s space race at the box office, Disney’s formidable ground troops — kids and parents with matinee money to burn — should lead the animated superhero tale Big Hero 6 to the overall weekend win. With both films expected in over $50M, it would mark only the fourth time in box office history that’s occurred. In one of the year’s marquee match-ups, Christopher Nolan’s sci-fi saga and Disney’s first animated film to feature Marvel characters were on trajectories to hit close to their projections. But the well-reviewed Hero still proved surprisingly potent on a Friday night, particularly for a family-geared PG film, suggesting strong adult turnout. That momentum should carry it through the weekend to make Hero the over-performer of the duo.

the-theory-of-everything-eddie-redmayne-2Noteworthy is an indie that has been gaining Oscar momentum (especially for actor Eddie Redmayne) — the Stephen Hawking pic The Theory of Everything which is doing strong per-screen business in limited release. Theory opened five theaters, four in the U.S. and one in Canada, where it’s finding a foothold with audiences. It’s riding good reviews — 79% on RT, and an 81% liked on Flixster. It may end the weekend with a per screen average of about $40k.

Paramount’s Interstellar — a PG-13 picture got off to a strong start with Tuesday through Thursday screenings on 249 runs. The cinephile director, who shot more than an hour of the film in IMAX, had it open early on the over-sized format and with a handful of 35mm prints. Interstellar grossed in the high teens today (included in that was the $2.7M it garnered from Thursday shows). Rotten Tomatoes has the critics polled at 72% Certified Fresh and an audience score of 89% liked, which will help the word-of-mouth, but is only garnered a B+ CinemaScore which averages to a 3.2 multiple. With a standard Saturday bump, Interstellar should gross around $50M to $52M for the 3-day weekend, but will likely be the first Nolan film in 12 years not to open at No. 1, snapping his streak at five straight movies. The last time that happened was in 2002, when Insomnia bowed in third place.

Disney’s Big Hero 6 made its first appearance in the Marvel comic book universe in 1998. While it trailed the fanboy-fueled Interstellar’s Friday turnout, BH6 collected an A CinemaScore, a 90% approval rating from critics and an audience score of 93% on Rotten Tomatoes, so word-of-mouth should be strong (and kids are notorious repeat viewers). A strong A CinemaScore translates into a 3.6 multiple. Look for a nice bounce on Saturday and a strong hold on Sunday to bring BH6 to the top of the leaderboard at around $54M to $56M.

Distant holdovers will make up the remainder of the top 5, with Open Road’s Nightcrawler, Fox’s Gone Girl (showing remarkable legs a month and a half after its release) and Brad Pitt’s WWII tank thriller Fury (Sony) rounding out the pack. Another Oscar hopeful, St. Vincent, dropped what looks like only 4% Friday to Friday for TWC. Here’s the chart; numbers and positions will be clearer in the morning:

1). Big Hero 6 (DIS), 3,761 theaters / $16M Fri. (includes $1.4M late nights) / 3-day cume: $54M to $56M+ / Wk 1

2). Interstellar (PAR), 3,561 theaters / $16.5M to $18M Fri. (includes $2.7M Thursday) / 3-day cume: $50M to $52M / Total cume: $54.2M (includes $2.15M previews) / Wk 1

3/4/5). Ouija (UNI), 2,680 theaters (-219) / $2M Fri. / 3-day cume: $6.2M to $6.5M / Total cume: $44M / Wk 3

Gone Girl (FOX), 2,224 theaters (-610) / $2M Fri. / 3-day cume: $6M to $6.4M / Total cume: $145.5M / Wk 6

Nightcrawler (OPRD), 2,766 theaters (0) / $1.8M to $2M Fri. / 3-day cume: $5.8M to $6M (-44%) / Total cume: $18M to $20M / Wk 2

6/7). Fury (SONY), 2,834 theaters (-479) / $1.65M to $1.7M Fri. / 3-day cume: $5.3M to $5.5M / Total cume: $69M / Wk 4

St. Vincent (TWC), 2,455 theaters (-97) / $1.65M Fri. / 3-day cume: $5.2M to $5.4M / Total cume: $27M+ / Wk 5

8). John Wick (LGF), 2,152 theaters (-437) / $1.4M Fri. / 3-day cume: $4.3M / Total cume: $34.7M / Wk 3

9). Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day (DIS), 2,381 theaters (-515) / $1M Fri. / 3-day cume: $3.6M / Total cume: $59M+ / Wk 5

10). The Book of Life (FOX), 2,166 theaters (-628) / $700K Fri. / 3-day cume: $3M+ / Total cume: $45M / Wk 4

NOTEWORTHY:  27). The Theory of Everything (FOCUS), 5 theaters / $58K Fri. / 3-day cume: $200K / Per screen: $40K / Wk 1

3rd UPDATE, Friday, 4:00 PM: Early results are starting to come in from matinees today and it appears that Disney’s Big Hero 6 and Paramount’s Interstellar could be neck in neck tonight but the odds-on favorite to win the weekend right now is Big Hero with an estimated gross of around $60M compared to Christopher Nolan’s sci-fi film’s $51M to $53M. That’s the early read right now, given the matinees. Friday grosses for Big Hero will include the $1.4M the animated film got last night in late shows (which shows a strong interest from adult audiences) and Paramount will count in the $2.7M Interstellar pulled in last night (with IMAX grosses tallied in). So we expect high teens (maybe around $16M+) tonight for Big Hero with Interstellar edging in a slight lead by tonight ($17.5M to $19M). However, with a big bump from family audiences on Saturday and Sunday, watch for Big Hero 6 to catapult over the space crew. More grosses will be coming in tonight.

It’s very early, but The Theory of Everything, opening in five theaters, is doing very well. It may end up in the range of $40K. Its current gross is around $35,568  for a location average of $7,114. The Oscar buzz-brewing film is getting good reviews for Focus Features.

2nd UPDATE, Friday, 8:49 AM: Interstellar may have achieved liftoff, though Big Hero 6 is hot on its vapor trail. Interstellar, which opened Tuesday on 250 screens, collected about $2.7M Thursday in expansion, while Hero secured a strong $1.4M, underscoring parental interest in the animated extravaganza.

After trickling out on 249 screens Tuesday and Wednesday, the Christopher Nolan-directed Interstellar grossed another $800K last night in those locales to bring what will be deemed the “preview” total up to $2.1M. Paramount will take the $2.7M in the non-film theaters and throw it into today’s grosses. So, in other words, the preview gross for the film will be about $2.1M and then the $2.7M gross from other theaters last night will be wrapped into the Friday gross, thereby boosting Friday’s numbers for the three-day weekend take.

If estimates hold, the Thursday (non-preview) take would put the Matthew McConaughey-Anne Hathaway pic well ahead of Gravity, which did $1.4M in its Thursday run. Inception captured $3M in its Thursday run, while World War Z did $3.6M, but those were summer releases.

Disney’s Big Hero 6 got off to a strong start from the gate. The animated bonanza’s $1.4M Thursday bow was better than Frozen’s $1.2M Tuesday preview before Thanksgiving, Disney said, and well ahead of The Lego Movie ($400K). Disney has to be ecstatic over the Thursday night returns, as kids and families usually flex their box office muscles on weekend days. Thursday’s solid $1.4M shows that Big Hero 6 is also appealing to adults which is great news for the studio. Could it pull of a No. 1 this weekend? More updates as numbers come in.

In terms of social media, the fight online couldn’t be closer between the two openers, according to RelishMix which tracks engagement on the Big Three — YouTube, Facebook and Twitter. Through yesterday, YouTube video views for Big Hero 6 were at 39M just a little over Interstellar at 37M, but the interesting thing is that the Interstellar videos are being reposted at an exceptional EOR (earned, owned ratio) of 26 to 1 with its animated competitor at 16 to 1 ratio. Since the latter is a family film, you have to take into account that it would have less re-posting but the younger demos tend to watch the videos repeatedly.

Interstellar has been on a long burn social fuse for three weeks and spiking with along the way,” said RelishMix’s Marc Karzen. “Facebook buzz for it just popped from the Wednesday night sneak peeks at 293% over Big Hero at 28%.”

Who has the social star power? Interstellar‘s Mathew McConaughey with 3.8M Facebook and 1.1M Twitter followers (added to mix with Jessica Chastain, Christopher Nolan and superfan pages for Anne Hathaway). Also not surprising is that the sci-fi flick has had consistent hashtag activity over the week, but Big Hero 6 got a big jolt to 11K after the premiere and a nice pick me up also from the musical group Fall Out Boy (9.1M Facebook and 1.1M Twitter followers) who are promoting the soundtrack.

1st UPDATE, Thursday, 10:13 AM: Interstellar hasn’t quite broken through box office’s gravitational pull. The Christopher Nolan sci-fi opera, which opened on 249 screens before a 3,500 screen invasion Friday, took in less than Paramount originally reported in the first two days of its limited opening.

The pic collected $1.35M over the first two days, distributor Paramount reports this morning, re-adjusted from yesterday’s gross of $1.5M+ for Tuesday night/Wednesday day. That’s about $5,400 per screen and slightly less than the studio reported originally, prompting many to drop the three-day forecast from $55M-$60M to $52M-$55M.

Still, with a running time of nearly three hours, the studio has framed the Matthew McConaughey and Anne Hathaway as a long-distance runner, not a sprinter. And Fandango reports that its outpacing pre-sales of Gravity, which took off to $55.7M on its way to $274M. The picture bowed on election night Tuesday.

Noteworthy: Open Road’s Nightcrawler is now a little over $600K ahead of Universal’s Ouija during mid-weeks to climb to the top of the heap going into the weekend.

PREVIOUSLY, Wednesday, 3:30 PM: One of the year’s most enticing box office showdowns occurs this weekend, but the tete-a-tete is between Christopher Nolan’s sci-fi opus Interstellar and Disney’s animated smorgasbord Big Hero 6 — two very different films which are vying for the No. 1 spot this weekend. In one corner is Nolan, a modern-day Kubrick among fanboys who is one of the few directors who outshines his stars on the marquee. Over just eight films, he’s grossed more than $3.5B worldwide.

Fitting, then, that the IMAX devotee will get the largest rollout ever for the oversized format: 760 theaters worldwide (369 domestically), including screenings at some of IMAX’s museum-based theaters, a rarity for a commercial film. The film began with a trickle into about 5% of overall theaters Tuesday — Paramount didn’t release its numbers until late today and reported Tuesday nights and all day Wednesday together for a $1.5M-plus estimate which they are saying represents roughly 5% to 8% of the total box office weekend. We heard that it grossed only around $500,000 last night (Tuesday nights are soft anyway and this was election night) but nevertheless, they are downgrading earlier estimates of between $55M to $60M to a readjusted $52.5M to $57.5M. It expands to 3,500 screens on Friday.

Paramount says it would be happy with $50M, a likely low threshold for a helmsman whose movies average more than $203M in domestic revenues. Fandango is reporting that it’s outselling Gravity (which opened at $55.7M last October), Nolan’s Inception ($62.7M in the summer) and Prometheus ($51M in June of 2012) in the same point of the sales cycle. It goes wide internationally this weekend with the exception of China (Nov. 12) and Japan (Nov. 22).  China was both Gravity and Inception’s No. 1 market. Expect this one to make about 63% of its total gross from the international marketplace as Gravity grossed 61% of its worldwide total and Inception 64%.

Studio estimates put the budget of Interstellar at around $165M but others have it pegged much higher. One of the biggest challenges for this well-promoted film (they even have banners inside airport terminals and also landed the Time magazine cover) could be the film’s run time; at nearly three hours long, exhibitors will have fewer screenings than its weekend foe, Hero. Paramount is handling domestic distribution for Interstellar and WB international. Will be interesting to see how the previews will affect the three-day grosses.

Interstellar, which stars Matthew McConaughey and Anne Hathaway, is rated PG-13 and is tracking strongest with males 35 and older. The movie is earning solid-if-not-stellar reviews, amassing a 75% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes. It’s running behind in the female demo compared to Gravity (but that one had female fave Sandra Bullock as one of the leads).

With better reviews, Hero has taken something of a back seat to Interstellar mania but doesn’t mean it isn’t standing toe-to-toe. One advantage it has is that it appeals to young girls who often travel hit the theater in packs. Like Guardians Of The Galaxy, the Don Hall-Chris Williams directed Hero follows the antics of first-time crime fighters and, like Guardians, could be moving under the radar in Interstellar’s wake as the family audiences are harder to track. With a larger release of 3,700 screens, Hero, too, appears headed for a $55M-$60M bow.

Hero also is scoring stronger reviews right now, an 84% on Rotten Tomatoes, which could be good for its multiplier, which runs higher with kids and families. According to Fandango, Hero is currently outselling previous Disney hits, Tangled (which opened to $48.7M during Thanksgiving 2010) to and Wreck-It Ralph ($49M in Nov. 2012). It opens Thursday at 7 PM in 3,761 theaters.

Regardless of derby winner, this may mark one of the few weekends when the silver medal will do just fine. Lincoln, How to Train Your Dragon 2 and Bridesmaids never held the No. 1 crown, but cruised well past $160M domestically. Last year, Brad Pitt’s World War Z fell to another animated entry, Monsters University. The zombies still collected $202M. And the showdown should continue fall’s robust rebound, which is running 5% ahead of fall last year.