'A Good Day to Die Hard'
'A Good Day to Die Hard'

Good news: four wide releases grossed over $20 million for the four-day Presidents' Day weekend. On paper that looks solid. Pictures with varied appeal--male action, comedy, young female, kids--marked a return to more normal moviegoing after weeks of adult-sewing films, with a few genre films grabbing scattered attention. Bruce Willis' fifth turn in a "Die Hard" film led the way, staving off a strong challenge by the second week of Melissa McCarthy's career-boosting hit "Identity Thief," which will likely be the biggest film released in the first two months of the year (at least in North America).

But even with these better numbers--the top five films should be hits, helped by reasonable budgets and varying international appeal--the total gross again fell short of last year's. The top ten grossed $144 million for the long weekend, compared to $166 last year, around a 15% drop. Though not nearly as bad as last weekend (which did less than half than the same weekend in 2012), it still represents a continued decline in grosses at theaters this year. The studios (other than Warner Bros., which opened another flop this week) seem to be doing fine, but exhibitors continue to fall short in their revenues.

'Identity Thief'
'Identity Thief'

Note: Grosses are four day estimates; the per cent drop for holdovers is based on three-day comparisons.

1. A Good Day to Die Hard (20th Century-Fox) NEW - Cinemascore: B+; Metacritic score: 28

$29,300,000 in 3,553 theaters; PSA (per screen average): $8,247; Cumulative: $37,539,000

After recent action flops starring Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenner and Jason Strathairn, the sold number for the latest in the long-running "Die Hard" series should come as a relief to Fox. This is a true in-house franchise (no outside co-producers) with the franchise having been developed decades ago, and even more impressive, the same star is still in place still running strong.

Set and shot in Russia, this cost a not-enormous $92 million, and with international grosses likely to double or more its domestic take, this is on the way to decent success at least, despite the worst reviews in the series (the early films did quite well critically). This opened in some territories a week earlier, and has already taken in $80 million outside the U.S.

Comparing grosses to earlier releases with lower ticket prices, this falls a bit short, even with the boost of five-day figures. But the increase in foreign revenues will more than compensate for any relative shortfall domestically. And that it shows this level of strength after recent action star flops makes Bruce Willis once again viable in the kind of role he has thrived at.

Director John Moore has made all of his films for Fox (very unusual these days), including remakes of "The Omen" and "Flight of the Phoenix." His biggest previous grossing film actually was "Behind Enemy Lines." Producer Alex Young has overseen "Unstoppable" and "The A-Team," so this will clearly burnish his image as a success in the big-budget action world.

What comes next: This will not be a long-running film, and could fall behind not only next week's new films but also "Identity Thief," but it has done well enough to make another film likely.

2. Identity Thief (Universal) - Week 2; Last Weekend: #1

$27,884,000 (3 day gross -32%) in 3,165 theaters (+24); PSA: $8,810; Cumulative: $75.172,000

After outdoing "Bridesmaids"' opening last weekend, this Melissa McCarthy-starrer looks headed to being slightly ahead for their parallel second stanzas, though by a smaller margin. The earlier comedy grossed $21 million its first three days (compared to $23 million for this). That film fell only 20% on its way to a strong word-of-mouth driven lengthy run.

The PSA for "Thief" actually was better than for "Die Hard" (this played at several hundred fewer theaters), which makes its performance even more impressive.

The 11-day gross for this is unmatched -- really nothing even close -- for any new film since Christmas. It also means that Universal, with two female-led films (the other "Mama" starring Jessica Chastain), boasts the two biggest new films of 2013. Throw in "Les Miserables" and the modest success of "This Is 40," and the studio is showing some significant strength above other studios at the moment with its diversified release schedule.

What comes next: This looks like it should end up over $125 million. Not "Bridesmaids" perhaps (that ended up near $170), but with lousy reviews and only one female star, still very impressive. And it's still early, so even more than that is possible.