Universal’s “Safe House” gave “Vow” a close race on Friday and cracked the second spot with $39.33 million, followed by Warner Bros.’ “Journey 2: The Mysterious Island” with $27.55 million and 20th Century Fox’s re-release in 3-D of “Star Wars: Episode One – The Phantom Menace” with a stout $23 million to place fourth.
Tracking seemed to be off for this weekend’s new arrivals as all four releases topped expectations heading into the frame – some by pretty wide margins. It also marked the first time in history that four films grossed more than $20 million each during a non-holiday weekend--only Christmas weekend 2008 boasted four films topping $20 million each.
The weekend total --an estimated $193 million-- bested the $154 million taken in during the comparable period in 2009 and is a record high for this weekend in February. Thus it was the sixth consecutive up weekend this year. Still, there have been 18 wide release films this year to date, compared with just 12 in 2011. More new releases generally brings higher grosses overall at the boxoffice.
Weekend projections for the PG-13 rated “The Vow” were in the $35 million area. Rachel McAdams and Channing Tatum star in the film helmed by Michael Stucsy, which met mixed reviews and appealed mostly to younger females under the age of 25. “Vow” should be a money maker for the studio as the production budget was a modest $30 million.
The debut of the romantic drama was a high for a Screen Gems release, topping the $30.5 million opening of “Dear John,” based on the novel by Nicholas Sparks which also starred Channing Tatum, during Valentine’s Day 2010. “Dear John” went on to gross around $80 million in North America. “We had really high hopes for this picture – but this exceeded all our expectations,” said Rory Bruer, President of Worldwide Distribution for Sony, citing as the chemistry of the two stars and their willingness to promote the picture as the main reason for its success.
“Vow” was based on a true story about a newlywed couple who have a car accident that puts the wife in a coma. When she wakes up she has severe memory loss and her husband has to win her heart again. The film should hold up well as it scored a B CinemaScore.
$85-million “Safe House” was projected to open in the $25-$30 million range, so the Daniel Espinosa film easily topped that number. The R-rated action-thriller stars Ryan Reynolds as a young CIA agent who is assigned to look after a fugitive (Denzel Washington) who is an older CIA agent in a safe house in South Africa, but when the safe house is attacked the two are on the run
Produced by Universal and Relativity, “Safe House" scored a high A- with CinemaScore, which bodes well for long legs. “Safe House” met with mixed reviews but had the best among this weekend’s new films with a 57% fresh rating according to RottenTomatoes.com. Older males and African-American moviegoers had the most interest in the film. Washington’s last film, action-thriller “Unstoppable,” debuted with $22.7 million in 2010.
“Journey 2: The Mysterious Island” was the biggest surprise of the weekend as forecasts had the film opening in the high teens. The PG-rated family-actioner was a follow-up to the 2008 hit “Journey to the Center of the Earth” starring Brendan Fraser, but this one had the advantage of being in 3-D. “The picture took on a life of its own," said Dan Fellman, President of Domestic Distribution for Warner Bros. "The people loved the first 'Journey,' and the addition of Dwayne Johnson certainly helped drive our boxoffice to the weekend results,”
New Line Cinema's $79-million “Journey 2,” starring Johnson, Josh Hutcherson and Vanessa Hudgens, scored a high A- CinemaScore, and 45% of those asked said Johnson was the reason for attending. The audience as 50/50 male/female and 74% of the gross came from 3-D showings. Brad Peyton directed the feature, which has already taken in an estimated $50 million overseas. The story is about a young Sean Anderson partnering with his mom’s boyfriend on a mission to find his grandfather, who is thought to be on a mythical island.
The 3-D version of “Phantom Menace” brought up the fourth slot, landing at the high end of expectations, following several other older films converted to the 3-D format in order to find fresh revenue on a modest investment. The PG-rated sci-fi adventure from George Lucas attracted a broad audience. “Early interest was from the core base of 'Star Wars' fans, and as the weekend moved on you had parents taking their children to see film,” said Chris Aronson, Exec VP Domestic Distribution for Fox. The audience was 60/40 male-female with a large 49% under the age of 25.
"Phantom’s” 3-D release had taken in around $20.5 million internationally, which makes for a worldwide total of $43.5 million to date. As to the weekend's overall robust performance, Aronson noted: “It shows a balanced marketplace as there was something for everyone at the boxoffice.”