Weekend Box Office (January 20 - 22, 2012)

by Gitesh Pandya

THIS WEEKEND Three new action films attacked the North American box office but the futuristic vampire thriller Underworld: Awakening and the World War II-set fighter pilot pic Red Tails led the way with each generating a solid debut. The modern-day assassin flick Haywire was met with more modest results as was the nationwide expansion of the Tom Hanks-Sandra Bullock drama Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close which both settled into the top five. Overall business was affected somewhat by snowstorms in the midwest and east and Sunday grosses took a hit from the NFL conference championship games, especially male-skewing action flicks. But the marketplace showed remarkable growth over last year when the box office was in a downturn with weak films.

Kate Beckinsale enjoyed her second number one debut in as many weeks by returning to her signature franchise with Underworld: Awakening which opened on top with $25.3M, according to final studio figures. After co-starring with Mark Wahlberg in last week's top choice Contraband, the English actress generated a strong $8,222 average from 3,078 theaters and joined all three previous films in the popular series with an opening weekend in the $20-27M range. The R-rated film was not screened for critics and eventual reviews that came out were mostly negative.

Awakening, the fourth film in Sony's franchise and third starring Beckinsale, was the first in 3D and benefitted from higher priced tickets from that format as well as IMAX. The first Underworld bowed to $21.8M in September 2003 and was followed by a $26.9M debut this very weekend in 2006 for Underworld: Evolution. The next film, Rise of the Lycans, did not feature Beckinsale and opened to $20.8M this weekend in 2009. Given the higher prices and surcharges, Awakening attracted an audience this weekend that was about the same size as the one for Lycans. 3D accounted for a high 59% of the gross while another 15% came from IMAX.

Studio research showed that males made up 55% of the crowd while 60% was 25 and older. Fans liked what they got as the CinemaScore grade was an encouraging A-. Saturday sales went up by 9% which is impressive for the fourth installment of a sci-fi/horror franchise, however bad weather in many parts of the country on Friday could have pushed some business to the following day. The last two sequels both fell by more than 55% on the second weekend and the same should ring true for Awakening. All three pics starring Beckinsale debuted at number one.

Overseas, Underworld: Awakening debuted to an estimated $13.4M from 36 markets including a dozen top spot bows for a global bow of $38.7M.

Soaring past expectations, the period action film Red Tails opened impressively in second place with $18.8M from a more narrow 2,512 theaters for a stellar $7,477 average per location. The PG-13 film about the Tuskegee Airmen starred Cuba Gooding Jr. and Terence Howard and was financed by George Lucas who stated that no studio wanted to bankroll a $58M production with an all-black cast. Reviews were not very good, however paying members of the public thought highly of the 1940s-set film which earned a solid A grade from CinemaScore.

Red Tails played evenly across genders with males making up 51% of the crowd. As expected, older patrons took more interest with 66% being 25 and older. Saturday enjoyed a stellar 44% jump indicating the road ahead could be promising. Last week's Martin Luther King holiday provided a great time to promote this week's launch of the Fox release and with the start of Black History Month just a week away, the film is well-positioned to remain a timely movie choice for many. Red Tails actually attracted a larger audience per theater than Underworld did when 3D and IMAX ticket price differences are factored out.

After topping the weekend last week with a stronger-than-expected debut, Wahlberg's action hit Contraband fell an understandable 51% thanks in part to all the new action competition to $12M. The $25M production has now banked $45.9M in ten days and looks headed for a finish in the neighborhood of $70M.

The 9/11 drama Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close starring Tom Hanks and Sandra Bullock expanded into national release after a month of limited play and landed in fourth with a so-so performance. Warner Bros. saw a weekend take of $10M from 2,630 locations for a decent $3,820 average. Close is hoping for a Best Picture nod from the Academy this Tuesday in order to keep it relevant at the box office, but so far it has not been a consistent part of the awards conversation. The Oscar-winning stars could give it some extra love from Academy members, though. Cume to date is $10.7M.

Disney's 3D re-release of Beauty and the Beast tumbled 51% in its second weekend to $8.8M giving the studio $33.6M to date. It was a large decline given that no new kids movies opened. The studio's last 3D upgrade on The Lion King fell only 27% in its sophomore session despite facing new competition for families.

Steven Soderbergh's newest film Haywire also opened to moderate results bowing to $8.4M from 2,439 sites for a $3,454 average. The R-rated espionage thriller marked the debut of Gina Carano, a female Mixed Martial Arts champion, who anchored the film alongside male co-stars like Ewan McGregor, Channing Tatum, Michael Fassbender, Michael Douglas, and Antonio Banderas. Budgeted at $23M, the well-reviewed film earned good marks from critics but was panned by audiences polled by CinemaScore earning a dismal D+ grade. Studio research showed that the audience was 55% male, 64% under 35, and 54% non-white. With so many action options for moviegoers and an untested star in the lead, Haywire carved out a slice of the pie that was mostly in line with industry expectations.

Warner Bros. saw a moderate 47% decline for its musical dramedy Joyful Noise which grossed $5.9M lifting the cume to $21.7M after ten days. Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol took in $5.6M, off 53%, for a $197.4M total. Paramount's overseas tally rose to a muscular $336.7M with the global tally reaching a towering $534M for the Tom Cruise sequel.

The Robert Downey Jr. sequel Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows dropped 47% to $4.5M putting Warner Bros. at $178.3M. Sliding 32% was Meryl Streep's The Iron Lady to $3.7M for a $12.6M sum to date for The Weinstein Co.

Oscar front-runner The Artist tripled its theater count and saw sales double as it established itself in wider release to reach a broader audience. The Weinstein Co. title grossed $2.4M from 662 locations (up from 216) averaging a mediocre $3,583. With $12.1M to date, the acclaimed silent film has won the Golden Globe for Best Comedy/Musical and on Saturday took home the coveted PGA award which is a very accurate indicator of the favorite at the Academy Awards. The last four PGA winners went on to win Best Picture at the Oscars.

The top ten films grossed $103.1M which was up a sharp 24% from last year when No Strings Attached opened in the top spot with $19.7M; but down 14% from 2010 when Avatar remained at number one with $34.9M in its sixth frame.

Compared to projections, Underworld: Awakening and Haywire were both on target with my respective forecasts of $25M and $9M while Red Tails doubled my $9M prediction.

Get earlier box office updates and analysis by following BoxOfficeGuru.com on Twitter.

Watch the NEW trailer for Finding Nemo 3D and check the chart for the Golden Globe Winners and Grosses.

For a NEW review of Watching TV with the Red Chinese visit The Chief Report.

Be sure to check back on Thursday for a complete summary, including projections, for next weekend when The Grey, Man on a Ledge, and One for the Money all open.

Marketplace - Shop for DVDs, electronics, books, and posters at discounted prices:

# Title Jan 20 - 22 Jan 13 - 15 % Chg. Theaters Weeks AVG Cumulative Distributor
1 Underworld: Awakening $ 25,306,725 3,078 1 $ 8,222 $ 25,306,725 Sony
2 Red Tails 18,782,154 2,512 1 7,477 18,782,154 Fox
3 Contraband 12,039,605 24,349,815 -50.6 2,870 2 4,195 45,937,525 Universal
4 Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close 10,045,332 91,029 2,630 5 3,820 10,737,239 Warner Bros.
5 Beauty and the Beast 3D 8,779,676 17,754,905 -50.6 2,625 2 3,345 33,588,056 Disney
6 Haywire 8,425,370 2,439 1 3,454 8,425,370 Relativity
7 Joyful Noise 5,917,437 11,225,190 -47.3 2,735 2 2,164 21,745,419 Warner Bros.
8 Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol 5,554,254 11,686,617 -52.5 2,519 6 2,205 197,363,441 Paramount
9 Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows 4,515,497 8,592,657 -47.4 2,485 6 1,817 178,321,726 Warner Bros.
10 The Iron Lady 3,684,279 5,412,934 -31.9 1,076 4 3,424 12,585,958 Weinstein Co.
11 The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo 3,528,514 6,660,907 -47.0 1,907 5 1,850 94,553,582 Sony
12 War Horse 3,150,502 5,923,128 -46.8 2,525 5 1,248 72,285,180 Disney
13 Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked 3,076,168 5,893,831 -47.8 2,070 6 1,486 124,682,205 Fox
14 We Bought a Zoo 2,783,440 5,560,781 -49.9 2,065 5 1,348 69,565,025 Fox
15 The Devil Inside 2,668,865 8,028,439 -66.8 2,207 3 1,209 51,289,972 Paramount
16 The Descendants 2,372,298 2,100,256 13.0 560 10 4,236 51,259,658 Fox Searchlight
17 The Artist 2,371,803 1,193,180 98.8 662 9 3,583 12,119,718 Weinstein Co.
18 The Adventures of Tintin 2,218,841 4,035,024 -45.0 1,340 5 1,656 72,321,006 Paramount
19 Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy 1,763,380 3,194,172 -44.8 731 7 2,412 18,328,977 Focus
20 Hugo 937,620 1,046,468 -10.4 650 9 1,442 55,887,402 Paramount
Top 5 $ 74,953,492 $ 73,609,184 1.8
Top 10 103,050,329 105,676,270 -2.5
Top 20 127,921,760 126,256,205 1.3
Top 20 vs. 2011 127,921,760 97,933,286 30.6

Last Updated: January 23, 2012 at 5:45PM ET

Watch Gitesh Pandya's weekly box office preview on CNN International airing live each Thursday at 7:40pm ET.