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Weekend Box Office: 'The Vow' And 'Safe House' Lead Four $20 Million+ Debuts

The Playlist By Gabe Toro | The Playlist February 12, 2012 at 1:44PM

It’s a crowded non-holiday weekend in February. Clearly, all these new releases should do somewhere in the vicinity of $10-$15 million, cannibalizing their own audiences, right? It’s early, but in a year of box office surprises, consider this weekend the most unlikely. With the final tallies to be announced on Monday, this will be the first non-holiday weekend to feature four $20 million+ debuts. And, surprisingly, none of them are costly flops.
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The Vow, Tatum, McAdams

It’s a crowded non-holiday weekend in February. Clearly, all these new releases should do somewhere in the vicinity of $10-$15 million, cannibalizing their own audiences, right? It’s early, but in a year of box office surprises, consider this weekend the most unlikely. With the final tallies to be announced on Monday, this will be the first non-holiday weekend to feature four $20 million+ debuts. And, surprisingly, none of them are costly flops.

It’s early and the numbers could change, but right now call it for “The Vow.” The syrupy romance, featuring the genre’s current titan in Rachel McAdams and the weirdly ubiquitous Channing Tatum, might as well have been assembled in a lab considering how it connected with its pre-Valentine’s Day audience. Nevermind the fact that, in addition to the cash it’s going to pack away this weekend, it’s going to sell out theaters nationwide on Tuesday as well. There are several broadly appealing flicks currently playing, but clearly this was the only date option.

This goes down as the biggest opening in the history of Sony’s Screen Gems division, beating out another Tatum weepie, “Dear John” ($30.5 million). And while the films don’t share “Dear John”’s main creative force, novelist Nicolas Sparks, they might as well send the guy some royalties, as marketing for this true-story four-hankie effort seems to be predicated on familiarity of the clockwork kiss fests Sparks’ work puts in the multiplex annually. Tatum has four more movies in wildly different genres for the rest of the year, so most of the heat for this goes to McAdams. If you ignore 2010’s high-profile flop “Morning Glory,” this will be her fifth straight film to gross over $56 million. While that run includes low-impact supporting roles in “Sherlock Holmes” and “Midnight In Paris,” it’s no doubt a comfortable position of visibility for a leading lady. Considering McAdams had a similarly successful five movie stretch from ’04 to ’05, it’s time to suggest that she may be a bonafide A-Lister.  

Speaking of bonafides, “Safe House” represents the second biggest opening weekend in the storied career of Denzel Washington, only behind the demographic-crossing “American Gangster.” When it comes to decently budgeted blockbusters, most with a confident R-rating, this is Washington’s twelfth opening weekend of $20 million or greater. Few bring in audiences quite so consistently, even if a cursory glance at his resume suggests not a whole lot of great reviews for some of these hits.

While much of the credit goes to Washington, this is a positive sign for prospective leading man Ryan Reynolds. Since “The Proposal” did blockbuster numbers three years ago, Reynolds has diversified in flops both arthouse and multiplex-sized. Teaming with a Teflon superstar like Denzel was inspired, as it gets him back in a positive light with studios and mainstream moviegoers, which is a good sign for Reynolds’ big summer release “R.I.P.D.” Though it will be interesting if the early ad materials for that movie showcase Reynolds, the premise, or the ensemble, though we’d bet heavier on those last two, since Ryan Reynolds is the most basic dude in Hollywood.

There’s a bit of a sting to “Journey 2: The Mysterious Island” finishing as the third place option for moviegoers this weekend. Still, this gross is stronger to that of the original “Journey to the Center of the Earth,” which opened at the heart of summer and played long despite being crushed by “The Dark Knight” a week after its release. That film had extraordinary legs and, despite dealing with Batman, it played in a relatively smaller marketplace, so it’s interesting to see if this film can also make it to nine figures. Worth noting, this is also Dwayne Johnson’s ninth $20 million opening, though only four of those could be considered genuine lead roles.

The numbers deflated after a massive opening day, but “Star Wars: Episode 1 – The Phantom Menace 3D” still enticed a whole bunch of suckers once more with a solid $20 million plus opening. George Lucas has promised/threatened that if this re-release performed strongly, 3D upgrades of the other films in the series would follow, though it’s unclear what his barometer of success is, considering the re-issue’s $15 million price tag and the fact that the theatrical re-release of the original “Star Wars” brought in much more cash fifteen years ago without inflated 3D prices. Regardless, anytime you can trick audiences into seeing the same piece of shit twice within a thirteen-year window, everything is gully. With this opening, and a coming worldwide expansion, expect 'The Phantom Menace' to see its total gross rise about the $1 billion mark. Because George Lucas doesn’t have enough goddamned billions.

Falling out of first place was “Chronicle,” which had a typical second weekend drop, though it was a slightly stronger hold for a geek-centric effort. The found/shared/disseminated footage film had a budget somewhere between $12-$15 million, so the studio is mostly still crowing over that opening, and a final tally between $55-$65 million is a massive success for a film that looked like it had the year’s most dubious ad campaign. It stayed comfortably ahead of “The Woman in Black,” which also held its own despite being a genre-leaning project. Like “Chronicle,” 'Black' came in cheap, an acquisition by CBS Films, so everyone involved has to be massively pleased that the Hammer name still carries some cachet, and that Daniel Radcliffe can be a bankable lead post-'Potter.'

The Grey” is in the process of exiting stage right for Open Road, and it should cap its run at $55 million or so, though if Open Road keeps its promise to director Joe Carnahan, the film could return at years’ end. “Big Miracle” didn’t go anywhere in its second weekend and will probably be forgotten by next week despite hopes of a second wind. “The Descendants,” meanwhile, crossed $70 million, and could be in line for much more depending on how the Oscars pan out. Meanwhile, “Underworld: Awakening” crawled closer to the second film’s gross, which it should surpass soon, if only barely, though it is already the biggest film in the series worldwide.

In indie theaters, the biggest debut went to "Rampart," which grossed $65k at five locations. Its per-screen was not as strong, however, as Oscar-nominee "Chico And Rita," which brought in $21k on a single screen. With $27k on three screens, "In Darkness" was in between the two of them as far as debuts, though the biggest arthouse film of the week was still "A Separation," with $288k at forty-five locations, its total running to $1.6 million. Meanwhile, "We Need To Talk About Kevin" added three screens to its sixteen-theater total, registering an $80k weekend for a $5k average in its tenth week. Support your local arthouse theater, boys and girls.

1. Romantic Weepie Model XR783 (Sony/Screen Gems) - $41.7 million
2. Generic Action Picture Model XP906 (Universal) - $39.3 million
3. Journey 2 Live Crew: The Mysterious Island (Warner Bros.) - $27.6 million
4. Star Wars: For Masochists Only 3D (Fox) - $23 million
5. Chronicle (Fox) - $12.3 million ($40 mil.)
6. The Woman In Caucasian (CBS Films) - $10.3 million ($35 mil.)
7. The Neutral Color (Open Road) - $5 million ($43 mil.)
8. Big Fat Fuckin’ Miracle (Universal) - $3.9 million ($13 mil.)
9. George Clooney’s Hawaiian Vacation (Fox Searchlight) - $3.5 million ($71 mil.)
10. Underworld: Fighting (Song/Screen Gems) - $2.5 million ($59 mil.)

This article is related to: The Vow, Screen Gems, Journey 2: The Mysterious Island, Safe House, Denzel Washington, Star Wars: Episode I -- The Phantom Menace