Coming off the surprisingly strong Super Bowl-affected weekend the box-office simply blew up this weekend as four new movies rocketed out of the gate with $20+ million openings. Not only is it absolutely incredible for a February weekend, it was actually the second time ever that four openers managed to get to $20 million (with the other weekend being December 26-28, 2008) and the first time the feat was achieved on a non-holiday weekend. It is even moreso impressive that this actually didn’t even happen during the summer box-office season or the holiday season, but on the weekend prior to the Presidents Day weekend. The Top 12 cume came in at an amazing $173.8 million, up a whopping 83.8% from the prior frame. It also represented a 28.3% increase over the same weekend last year when Just Go with It led the charts with a $30.5 million opening. To showcase this weekend’s terrific performance one needs to mention that it was the biggest weekend at the box-office since the Thanksgiving weekend last year and the biggest non-holiday weekend since last July. Nevertheless, despite this tremendous success, this wasn’t the first time openers performed this well in February and it wasn’t even the biggest February weekend ever. That honor still belongs to the Presidents Day weekend back in 2010 when the Top 12 notched up $188.9 million thanks to three $30+ million openers, among them the humongous $56.3 million start for Valentine’s Day. Nevertheless, this year’s pre-Presidents Day weekend just goes on to show that if you open highly-appealing and well-marketed movies that appeal to completely different demographics on the same weekend, they all can overperform no matter which month they are released in. Hopefully the studios will learn something from this weekend.
The four openers easily took the four top spots of the box-office. The romantic drama The Vow, inspired by true events, handily took #1 with a thunderous $41.2 million opening from 2,958 venues giving it an amazing $13,929 average per theatre. This is by far the biggest opening ever for a straight-forward romantic drama. The film that is in the vein of Nicholas Sparks adaptations like Dear John ($80 million) or The Notebook ($81 million) could greatly benefit from having the leads of those two films. The marketing of the film put a heavy emphasis on its stars which are not always certified box-office draws, but in roles like these they obviously can attract a sizable audience. The trailer emphasized the previous major romantic roles of the film’s two leads. While well-marketed romantic dramas can usually become decent-sized hits, it is rare for them to break out in such a huge fashion. Having two stars that have been in well-liked hits in that very genre definitely helps, though.
The Vow’s opening is extraordinary, there is no doubt about that, but it is not without precedence. Back in 2010, on the Super Bowl weekend the Nicholas Sparks adaptation Dear John (like The Vow produced by the Sony subsidiary Screen Gems), starring The Vow’s Channing Tatum and Amanda Seyfried opened to $30.5 million and dethroned Avatar after its seven-week reign of the box-office. It was an incredible opening for a romantic drama. Facing mediocre word-of-mouth and Valentine’s Day in its second weekend, the movie faltered pretty quickly and finished with $80 million which is still a formidable gross for this type of film. Rachel McAdams’ big break on the other hand came in form of another Sparks adaptation, The Notebook. Despite mediocre reviews the film delivered tremendous legs after its opening in 2004 and went on to finish with $81 million. After its theatrical run it became an immense hit on DVD, selling over 10 million units and became one of the most beloved romances of the past decade. To put the stars of these two films in a romance was a genius move and the release date for it was just perfect too as January was just cluttered with R-rated movies and the marketplace was completely lacking anything for couples to enjoy. Looking at all these factors, The Vow’s $40+ million opening, while stunning, still seems less a surprise and more as a consequence of the perfect set of circumstances.
The Vow’s “B” CinemaScore and likely frontloading similar to Dear John doesn’t speak for great legs, but given its $30 million budget it is already a great success and will, with ease, become Screen Gems biggest film ever domestically. Moreover, it shouldn’t have much of a problem to become the first $100+ million movie of 2012 (though Safe House might give it a run for its money). With Valentine’s Day and the Presidents Day weekend still ahead, it should have healthy legs at first and probably crumble later on. It should finish with $110-125 million domestically and greatly boost both Tatum’s and McAdams’ profiles. After the disappointment of Morning Glory, McAdams seems to be fully back as a box-office magnet and a major star.
After last weekend’s slight disappointment Big Miracle, Universal is back in the game big time with Safe House’s $40.2 million opening weekend from 3,119 locations giving it a per-theatre-average of $12,880. The Ryan Reynolds/Denzel Washington starrer recorded the 23rd-biggest opening weekend ever for an R-rated movie and after Contraband it is the second big R-rated breakout for Universal this year. After somewhat of a box-office slump and a series of pricey disappointments, Universal could rebound extremely well last year with the huge breakouts of Fast Five and Bridesmaids and it appears like the studio is off to a terrific start in the new year as well. With The Bourne Legacy, Battleship and American Reunion, Universal still has a few potential huge hits left for the rest of the year. Safe House’s huge opening is even more remarkable if you consider the apparent overload of R-rated movies during the past weeks. The year kicked off with The Devil Inside, an R-rated “found footage” horror movie taking the top spot with a terrific $33.7 million. The next weekend, Universal’s R-rated action thriller remake Contraband opened to a solid $24.3 million. A week later, the fourth instalment in the prolific R-rated Underworld franchise opened on top to $25.3 million only for its top spot to be taken away next week by the R-rated Liam Neeson starrer The Grey ($19.7 million). All these movies became big hits for their studios and Safe House is no different. In that respect Safe House’s 40 million opening is actually more shocking than The Vow’s breakout. It didn’t have a completely open marketplace and target audiences that were starving for a new R-rated action flick. Those demographics have actually been rather well-served lately. So how come that Safe House still posted such great numbers?
The answer is actually pretty simple: Denzel Washington. There is barely a movie star out there that is a box-office draw as consistent as Washington. His consistency is not about churning out $100+ million flicks every time like Adam Sandler or Tom Hanks in the past. Typically his movies open somewhere in the $20-25 million range (eight of his movies have opened in that range) and finish with $65-85 million (seven movies that ended up there). Every once in a while, however, some of these films break out. Usually it is when Washington is playing a badass character. The prime example is Universal’s American Gangster which opened to a stunning $43.6 million back in 2007 and went on to finish with $130.2 million making it Washington’s biggest film to date. In Safe House Washington is supported by Ryan Reynolds who, in the right role, is very much a draw himself. Even though Safe House scored just mixed reviews, a great internal weekend multiplier of 2.85 and the “A-“ CinemaScore imply that strong legs are to follow. Generally Washington’s films tend to end up with solid legs. It also helps that there is no R-rated competition next weekend. If competition by Act of Valor won’t affect it much in two weeks there is actually a chance of Safe House topping American Gangster and becoming Washington’s new highest grosser. Right now I expect it to end up with $115-130 million making it only the fourth $100+ million film for Washington.
Coming in third and still delivering great numbers is Journey 2: The Mysterious Island. The sequel to the 2008 surprise summer hit Journey to the Center of the Earth 3D ($101.7 million) made $27.3 million over the weekend and averaged $7,878 from 3,470 theatres. The opening was 31% up from the first film’s $21 million start. It is fairly unusual for a family-oriented sequel that no one seemingly asked for and that lost the first film’s main star (Brendan Fraser) to outopen the predecessor, but looks like Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s addition to the sequel more than made up for Fraser’s absence. It’s the second sequel, after last year’s Fast Five, which broke out after The Rock has joined the cast. This certainly bodes well for G.I. Joe: Retaliation this year which also stars the former WWE champion. Particularly impressive is Journey 2’s internal weekend multiplier which came in at almost 4.2. After a soft $6.5 million Friday the film jumped a huge 92.8% to $12.6 million on Saturday. The film could obviously greatly benefit from January having basically no major family-oriented releases outside of the 3D re-issue of Beauty and the Beast. While the film might not manage the great legs of the original which topped the opening-to-total multiplier of 4.8, an “A-“ CinemaScore and an absolute lack of direct competition until The Lorax on the first weekend of March speak for solid legs to come. It is set for a $90-100 million finish which should probably be enough for another sequel to be considered, in particular since a sizable increase overseas is guaranteed for this instalment.
The second big re-release of the year, Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace 3D had to settle for the still-solid 4th spot of the box-office this weekend. The film took in $22.5 million from just 2,655 venues for an impressive PTA of $8,463. This number lifted the film’s already humongous domestic gross to $453.6 million and the 5th spot of the all-time domestic box-office chart, surpassing Shrek 2. Now there are two Star Wars films in the all-time Top 5 again. The opening is obviously not as impressive as The Lion King’s $30.2 million start last September, but let’s face it, for a movie that disappointed a whole lot of fans when it came out back in 1999, this is still a decent performance. It should not count on legs, though. The movie has proved to be frontloaded over the weekend as it decreased 1.2% on Saturday despite being family-oriented. While The Lion King turned out to be fairly leggy for a re-release, usually re-issues of older movies tend to end up less on the leggy side of things. A recent good example for that is Beauty and the Beast which won’t even get to a multiplier of 3 despite very little competition in the weeks following its release. With Star Wars having a huge and dedicated following, I expect even shorter legs here, giving the movie a $57-62 million total. This won’t be enough for it to climb past $500 million, unless Fox really wants to push it over, but it should comfortably put it at the all-time #4 spot, behind The Dark Knight ($533.3 million).
Despite the four openers making over $130 million altogether over the weekend, somehow last weekend’s #1 movie, Chronicle, still managed to hold its own. Sliding 45% to the #5 spot the “found footage” sci-fi action film added $12.1 million bringing its total to an ample $40 million. As predicted by me in last week’s analysis the film defied the trend of “found footage” movies being extremely frontloaded and crumbling after their openings. Depending on how well it’ll be able to withstand competition from Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance the film should be able to find its way into the $70-75 million range by the end of its run which is just terrific for this type of film and especially for its $12 million budget.
Displaying worse legs, but a similar kind of success, the $13 million-budgeted The Woman in Black dipped 51.6% to $10.1 million, settling for the 6th position of the charts this weekend. The Daniel Radcliffe supernatural starrer stands at $35.3 million after ten days on release and it is just $2 million away from passing The Back-Up Plan as CBS Films’ biggest release. While having no other horror movies ahead of itself should somewhat help The Woman in Black’s future run, mixed WoM (CinemaScore of a “B-“) will make sure that it won’t stick around for too long. Nevertheless, it is already a great success too and definitely not just good news for Radcliffe (who will have a career after Harry Potter), but also for the recently revived British Hammer Film Productions which produced the film. The flick’s targeted $55 million gross is definitely a great number for an “original” haunted house flick in our day and age.
Liam Neeson’s The Grey dropped four spots to #4 this weekend and collected $5 million (down 45.8%) over the three-day period. This brought its running cume to $42.8 million after 17 days. Safe House’s huge opening certainly didn’t help this film as it just doesn’t get the chance to develop any legs. Last weekend it was hurt by the Super Bowl, this weekend by immense competition. It might have a small rebound next weekend, but it will also soon start to shed screens and theatres like crazy and will eventually wind up with $55 million. That is still a solid number for this film, but its reviews and its adult audiences certainly suggested better legs.
As expected Universal’s Big Miracle is faltering despite good WoM. The whales rescue family film decreased 49.2% to $3.9 million giving it a $13.3 million total by the end of its sophomore weekend. While it might benefit from the holiday weekend in its third frame it is certain to lose a lot of showtimes and screens and won’t hang around for long from now on. I expect it to leave the theatres with $21 million in the bank. Universal’s executives won’t be too broken up about this though as Contraband and Safe House more than make up for that minor disappointment.
The awards contender The Descendants lost just one spot as it dropped to #9 this weekend. Alexander Payne’s Hawaii-set family drama delivered by far the best hold in the Top 12 as it eased 24.4% to $3.4 million. Its running cume now stands at $70.7 million, a mere $0.8 million away from passing the final gross of Payne’s previous film Sideways ($71.5 million). Considering that Payne’s films are usually inexpensive low key human dramas he has a terrific box-office track record. Prior to Sideways, his Jack Nicholson flick About Schmidt delivered $65 million even though it hasn’t even been nominated for the Best Picture Oscar and has never played in more than 1,240 theatres. The Descendants is clearly Payne’s biggest film and his biggest Oscars hopeful to date. There is little chance for it to take the Best Picture award at the moment as The Artist’s strength is just too big, but it is still a good contender for the Best Actor award and the second Screenplay Oscar for Payne. Either way right now the film is on course towards a $85-90 million finish which might very well make it the biggest movie ever that has never entered the box-office Top 5 on any weekend.
Underworld: Awakening once again suffered a harsh drop (54.9%) as it landed at #10 this weekend. The vampires vs. werewolves horror actioner delivered a $2.5 million weekend and brought its running total to $58.9 million. Its performance was also certainly hurt by the overperformance of Safe House. Nevertheless it is still tracking almost $1.5 million ahead of the series’ current highest-grosser Underworld: Evolution and is likely to keep its lead even though it should continue its freefall over the next weeks. It is set to finish with $64 million in the bank.
Red Tails fell to the 11th spot of the box-office in its fourth weekend and delivered a $2.4 million take (down 49%) for a $45.1 million total. It is somewhat surprising that despite little direct competition and apparently strong WoM the film has never developed any kind of solid legs, but now it just won’t have the time as new movies will soon take chunks out of its theatre count. It will go on to finish with $50 million when all is said and done.
One for the Money rounded off the Top 12 with the Top 12’s worst decline. Katherine Heigl’s film continues to show that her time as a formidable draw might be over as the film dipped 55.8% to $2.3 million and $23.7 million after 17 days. It won’ have much time to spend in theatres anymore and should wind up with around $27 million.
As we are nearing the Academy Awards 2012 it is interesting to take a look at the performance of the Best Picture contenders that are still doing somewhat well. The #13-#15 spots have been occupied by three Best Picture nominees. The Artist barely missed the Top 12 with a $2.2 million gross (down 14.3%) and brought its running total to a great $24 million. It’s amazing for a silent black-and-white film, even for a Best Picture frontrunner. A strong showing at the Oscars is almost certain for it and should give it a $40-55 million total by the end of its run. Martin Scorsese’s Hugo continues to display longevity as it held on to the 14th spot. Despite having lost a third of its theatres it dropped just 22.3% to $1.8 million and brought its still-disappointing total to $64.4 million. It’s just too bad that the film’s budget was $150+ million. Right now it is being carried by the buzz of its 11 nominations, but as major wins become less and less likely, it should drop very quickly after the awards ceremony and finish with $71 million. At last, the surprising Best Picture nominee Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close settled for the #15 spot with $1.5 million (down 61.3%) and a $29.4 million total. It will most likely go home empty-handed and make around $32 million while in theatres.