By Gabe Toro | The Playlist February 26, 2012 at 12:42PM
It’s been a red meat kinda year at the box office. The number one slot at the box office has been taken over by an R-rated action movie five times thus far, the latest example being hoo-rah Navy SEALs film “Act of Valor”. With constant studio waffling over ratings, mid-budgeted fare like “Contraband” and “Safe House” have still handily trumped PG-13 four-quadrant "alleged" blockbusters like “This Means War” and “Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance” all year long despite the supposed ratings handicap. And those films all had noted stars, familiar leading men and women, while “Act of Valor” is populated entirely by real armed forces.
There’s no questioning a hearty opening number like this, though Relativity did strong-arm this picture in front of audiences with a massive 3,000 screen release and a heavy-duty marketing campaign. Produced independently, the film was purchased for $13 million with the promise of an aggressive ad campaign that involved an unprecedented four Super Bowl commercial spots. The per-screen average isn’t blockbuster quality, but as far as experiments go, this was a great success, and yet more fuel to the argument that you don’t need big stars to make a decent profit.
While he remains one of the richest entertainers in Hollywood, Tyler Perry has earned his reputation by having his fingers in several pies. A “Tyler Perry” movie is less an event than it is a wise investment, and even less so when he’s not dressed in drag as his more famous alter-ego, Madea. “Good Deeds” was a smaller dry run for Perry’s coming turn as the lead in prospective franchise picture “Alex Cross,” and while this is the lowest debut for a Perry movie since 2007’s “Daddy’s Little Girls,” it’s a manageable first weekend considering the ads showcased none of Perry’s more well-known slapstick comedy. But even if Perry’s mainstream 'Cross'-over isn’t a success, he’s still got mid-budgeted “The Marriage Counselor” coming up as well as another big-screen turn as Madea.
Quick: what’s 2012’s highest grossing film? You probably answered “Big Miracle,” but it turns out it's actually “Journey 2: The Mysterious Island,” which easily crossed $200 million worldwide this weekend in only its third weekend of domestic release. The film’s done great business stateside and registered the one of the lowest drops of any offering in the top ten, but it’s made its real cash overseas where the picture was released weeks earlier, yet still continues to rule the international charts. The first film pulled in $240 million globally, but this one looks like a serious player for $300 million and beyond.
Most likely this means the WB will get a 'Journey 3' in production soon, though it’s doubtful they’ll be able to retain star Dwayne Johnson. When he signed on to this project there was some question as to which was bigger, the green 'Journey' franchise, or Johnson’s name? That may no longer be in doubt: the former wrestling star also has “G.I. Joe: Retaliation” on the docket, and if that performs similarly to its predecessor, that will be three straight $300 million grossers for Johnson. It may look like he’s only hopping on to pre-established properties, as he was not in the earlier installments of 'Joe' and 'Journey,' not to mention the 'Fast and Furious' films. But his inclusion in those last two titles led them to bigger returns than their predecessors, and 'Joe' is likely to follow suit. Can you smell what this A-Lister is cooking? I hope it's eggs. I love eggs.
“Safe House” dropped from the top spot, but it has already over performed and it will likely cross $100 million by mid-week. The picture probably lost a bit of steam from the male audience queuing for “Act of Valor," but the damage has been done. While no one will remember much about "Safe House," it’s likely Hollywood execs won’t forget director Daniel Espinosa, who’ll likely have his choice of primo follow-up gigs. The picture stayed above romancer “The Vow," the first release of 2012 to cross the $100 million mark. Can you say sequel? Would that make sense? I don’t know, didn't see it.
Prospects for “This Means War” looked bleak, but as it turns out it's only doing mediocre, forgettable business. What they thought was a potential blockbuster turned out to be a mundane programmer box-office wise, and the film looks like it will finish in the realm of $50-$60 million before a casual banishment to the bowels of basic cable hell. Despite the film being borderline unwatchable, the guess is that it doesn’t hurt anyone’s career all that much, save for Chris Pine, who may have to drop his leading-man asking price.
The fall was less generous for 'Ghost Rider,' as the superhero sequel took a massive second weekend tumble, much worse than the first film’s considerable second-frame drop. However, Sony claims a slight mistake in reporting the budget, revealing the film cost $57 million and not the originally-reported $75 million total. Normally this would sound like bullhockey, but the look of the film, the smaller cast, the Bulgaria shooting location and Nicolas Cage’s significantly reduced rate, not to mention directors Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor’s penchant for working on the cheap, gives this the ring of truth. If that budget number is true, than the film, reaching “Blade”-level grosses domestically and pulling in big 3D-loving audiences overseas, could count as something of a success. The public perception will suggest the film is a bomb and we’re likely to avoid a third 'Ghost Rider,' but all-in-all, Sony might just get away with this one.
A couple more debuts hit screens this weekend, though their respective studios were merely doing mercy killings. Knowing full well that Paul Rudd and Jennifer Aniston had tried and failed to be anything other than reliable B-Listers, Universal tanked the release of commune comedy “Wanderlust,” barely opening the film in 2,000 theaters. This was a rare misfire for producer Judd Apatow, but it became clear as the release date neared that no one knew how to sell this thing. Summit similarly dropped the poorly-titled “Gone” on this weekend, a picture made with the premise that, at this point, Amanda Seyfried would be a box office attraction. After sub-$15 million debuts for “Red Riding Hood” and “In Time,” it became clear that her stardom did not overshadow the concepts of her pictures, even if those last two ended up doing steady business. They were Concept Pictures, and “Gone” was a Star Vehicle, and Star Vehicles need to open. It’s clear what went wrong.
"The Secret Life of Arrietty" had the best hold in the top ten, though the kiddie market has been bare for awhile, and expect "The Lorax" to take the remaining business next weekend. 'Arrietty'will also likely be lapped by the Oscar pictures after exposure from tonight's show, most likely frontrunner "The Artist." The Academy frontrunner pulled in another $3 million this weekend, its strongest three-day gross yet, and while the film has yet to register an impressive per-screen average, it hasn't yet hit a thousand screens. Still, viewership was up almost a quarter from last weekend and the picture could finally break out with a little gold man in its hand.
"A Separation" again led a very quiet indie frame, with $423k in its ninth week of release. The prospective Best Foreign Film Oscar winner has already collected $2.6 million and continues to expand with a $5k per-screen average. "The Forgiveness Of Blood" was the only debut, with $32k on three screens for a solid $10k per-screen average. Support your local arthouse theater, boys and girls.
1. Scared Straight For Terrorists (Relativity) - $25.7 million
2. Tyler Perry Presents This Shit Again (Lionsgate) - $16 million
3. Journey 2: Anywhere You Want It, That's The Way You Need It (Warner Bros.) - $13.5 million ($77 mil.)
4. Safe House (Universal) - $11.4 million ($98 mil.)
5. The Vow (Sony) - $10 million ($103 mil.)
6. Ghost Rider 2: Riding Into Your Heart 3D (Sony) - $8.8 million ($38 mil.)
7. This Means A Petty, Taxpayer-Sponsored Game Of One-Upmaniship That Some Might Charitably Be Called War (Fox) - $8.5 million ($34 mil.)
8. Wanderlust (Universal) - $6.6 million
9. Gone (Summit) - $5 million
10. The Secret World of Arrietty (Disney) - $4.5 million ($15 mil.)