Weekend Box Office (February 3 - 5, 2012)

by Gitesh Pandya

THIS WEEKEND Super Bowl weekend saw a fierce battle between two sensational teams as the new super hero pic Chronicle won a narrow victory over the horror flick The Woman in Black leading a busy frame at the North American box office. Both new releases beat expectations with $20M+ debuts, were low-cost projects, and successfully excited teens and young adults who have been so hard for studios to reach with non-sequels. The former went after the guys while the latter targeted the gals allowing both films to thrive. In fact, all three of the weekend's new releases - including the kid-friendly whale rescue pic Big Miracle - skewed heavily towards the under-25 crowd leading the overall box office to continue to exceed year-ago levels every frame this year.

For the third time in four months, a low budget found-footage film topped the charts as the high school super hero tale Chronicle overperformed to open with $22M from 2,907 theaters for a strong $7,569 average per location, according to final studio figures. Fox's PG-13 pic about three students who gain super powers after making an underground discovery earned terrific reviews and performed better than anticipated. Studio research showed that males led the way with 55% of the audience while 61% was under 25. Just recently leaving that demo, 26-year-old Josh Trank became one of the youngest directors to ever hit the number one spot. By comparison, Steven Spielberg first reached the top at age 28 with Jaws while James Cameron did it at age 30 with The Terminator.

With a modest $12M budget and a marketing spend that was not too high, the no-star Chronicle should finish its run as a very profitable venture. Friday kicked off with a $8.6M start ($268,000 above Woman in Black) while Saturday saw an encouraging 18% rise to $10.1M which was $538,000 better than Black. Fox saw a hefty 69% fall for the male-skewing film on Super Bowl Sunday. Chronicle's road ahead will be tough though with Friday seeing the launches of three new action titles - Journey 2: The Mysterious Island, Safe House, and the 3D re-release of Star Wars Episode I. Plus the CinemaScore grade was only a B. But the opening weekend tally already makes the film a big winner.

Proving it could compete in the big leagues with the big boys, rookie distributor CBS Films scored a nice hit with its supernatural thriller The Woman in Black which scared up $20.9M from 2,855 locations for a solid $7,311 average. The PG-13 film starring Harry Potter's Daniel Radcliffe effectively targeted the younger female audience with a creepy spookfest and connected brilliantly by generating excitement that got people into theaters. Exit polls showed that 59% of the crowd was female while 57% was under 25 although a troubling B- CinemaScore grade does not bode well for the coming weeks.

Historically, Hollywood studios have used the Super Bowl frame as a launching pad for female-friendly horror films hoping to offer young women something else to do. Sony alone has had four of these types of fright flicks debut to over $14M a piece. Woman scored good reviews and was marketed in a way that made the film seem like it was more than just a typical ghost story. The film was also Radcliffe's first chance to anchor a wide release outside of his signature fantasy franchise and he fared much better than the trio of Twilight actors and nearly doubled the opening of Taylor Lautner's recent effort Abduction.

The Big Game is always a major distraction but with two major teams with national profiles like the New York Giants and New England Patriots, interest was especially high reaching the biggest audience ratings in TV history. Before this year, only four films had ever opened to more than $20M over the Super Bowl session. This weekend saw two more films join that short list simultaneously with both expected to reach only low-to-mid teen millions.

The Grey, the first of what should be many number one hits for Liam Neeson in 2012, suffered a sharp fall dropping 53% in its second weekend to $9.3M which raised the ten-day total to a solid $34.6M. It was a bigger sophomore fall than the 43% for the actor's Unknown a year ago and the 17% for his 2009 word-of-mouth smash Taken. But those films didn't have the Super Bowl to deal with in the second weekend. Open Road should find its way to about $55M by the end of its run.

Bowing in fourth with lackluster results was the whale rescue drama Big Miracle with $7.8M from 2,129 theaters for a mild $3,791 average. Starring Drew Barrymore and John Krasinski, the PG-rated film played primarily to moms and kids giving families an alternative to the weekend's football frenzy. Studio research showed that the audience was 68% female and 67% under 25. Despite very little competition for kids, Miracle only brought in so much business but those that did spend the money liked what they got as the CinemaScore was an A-. Family pictures are more likely to take advantage of Sunday matinee business before the football championship. Miracle carried a $40M production cost and attracted generally positive reviews.

Sony's vampire fourquel Underworld: Awakening placed fifth with $5.5M, off 56%, for a $54.3M cume to date. Kate Beckinsale's rival tough gal Katherine Heigl saw her action comedy One for the Money tumble 55% in its second round to $5.2M giving Lionsgate a decent $19.6M in ten days.

Fox's Tuskegee Airmen film Red Tails followed with $4.7M, down 54%, upping the total to $41.1M after 17 days. George Clooney's The Descendants took advantage of its five Academy Award nominations including Best Picture to post what was by far the smallest drop of any film in the top ten. The Fox Searchlight release dipped only 29% to $4.6M allowing the cume to rise to a solid $65.5M.

Holding up moderately well in its second weekend was the Sam Worthington action pic Man on a Ledge which slipped 46% to $4.4M although the ten-day tally of $14.6M is lackluster. Another contender for the top Oscar prize, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, rounded out the top ten as the Tom Hanks-Sandra Bullock flick fell 46% to $3.8M. Warner Bros. has taken in $26.7M to date.

Outside the top ten, other nominees for Best Picture saw different fates given their levels of mainstream playability. Declining by the smallest amount for any wide release was Martin Scorsese's Hugo which eased a scant 10% to $2.3M while only getting a modest increase in playdates from 965 to 1,030. Leading all films with 11 nominations, the pricey Paramount title has reached $61.9M to date. Front-runner The Artist fell by only 21% to $2.6M giving The Weinstein Co. $20.6M overall. Steven Spielberg's drama War Horse is not capitalizing on its nominations tumbling 54% to $916,000 and $77.3M total for Disney.

Opening to not-so-impressive results in just four theaters was Madonna's directorial effort W.E. which debuted to $$47,074 for a $11,769 average. Panned by critics, the period film about England's King Edward VIII's abdication of the throne for the woman he loved, American Wallis Simpson, did manage to earn an Oscar nod for Costume Design in addition to a pair of Golden Globe nominations, with the one for Best Song turning into a win. But none of this translated into much with paying customers as films that debut this exclusively need averages twice as big in order to impress.

The top ten films grossed $88.1M which was up an encouraging 29% from last year when The Roommate opened in the top spot with $15M; but down 7% from 2010 when Dear John debuted at number one with $30.5M knocking Avatar out of the top spot after a seven-week reign.

Compared to projections, both Chronicle and The Woman in Black opened ahead of my respective forecasts of $15M and $13M while Big Miracle was on target with my $7M prediction.

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Check the UPDATED chart for the Oscar Nominees and Grosses and watch the trailer for Finding Nemo 3D.

For a NEW review of Chronicle visit The Chief Report.

Be sure to check back on Thursday for a complete summary, including projections, for next weekend when Safe House, Star Wars Episode I 3D, The Vow, and Journey 2: The Mysterious Island open over what should be a sizzling frame.

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# Title Feb 3 - 5 Jan 27 - 29 % Chg. Theaters Weeks AVG Cumulative Distributor
1 Chronicle $ 22,004,098 2,907 1 $ 7,569 $ 22,004,098 Fox
2 The Woman in Black 20,874,072 2,855 1 7,311 20,874,072 CBS
3 The Grey 9,300,999 19,665,101 -52.7 3,207 2 2,900 34,557,532 Open Road
4 Big Miracle 7,760,205 2,047 1 3,791 7,760,205 Universal
5 Underworld: Awakening 5,500,744 12,352,802 -55.5 2,636 3 2,087 54,253,665 Sony
6 One for the Money 5,206,279 11,515,790 -54.8 2,737 2 1,902 19,624,266 Lionsgate
7 Red Tails 4,735,595 10,370,323 -54.3 2,347 3 2,018 41,059,053 Fox
8 The Descendants 4,552,943 6,405,285 -28.9 2,038 12 2,234 65,475,595 Fox Searchlight
9 Man on a Ledge 4,351,036 8,001,932 -45.6 2,998 2 1,451 14,615,810 Summit
10 Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close 3,802,367 6,980,448 -45.5 2,505 7 1,518 26,670,043 Warner Bros.
11 Contraband 3,408,255 6,704,360 -49.2 2,047 4 1,665 62,021,555 Universal
12 The Artist 2,612,607 3,315,089 -21.2 1,005 11 2,600 20,631,851 Weinstein Co.
13 Beauty and the Beast 3D 2,489,000 5,307,807 -53.1 1,719 4 1,448 44,818,000 Disney
14 Hugo 2,272,390 2,510,275 -9.5 1,030 11 2,206 61,911,429 Paramount
15 The Iron Lady 1,898,183 3,204,641 -40.8 1,021 6 1,859 20,655,532 Weinstein Co.
16 Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol 1,702,914 3,473,878 -51.0 1,077 8 1,581 205,200,776 Paramount
17 Joyful Noise 1,459,230 3,188,393 -54.2 1,350 4 1,081 28,964,458 Warner Bros.
18 Haywire 1,202,767 4,002,760 -70.0 1,251 3 961 17,847,671 Relativity
19 Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked 1,048,380 1,782,185 -41.2 818 8 1,282 128,351,805 Fox
20 Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows 1,026,005 2,472,141 -58.5 857 8 1,197 183,885,123 Warner Bros.
Top 5 $ 65,440,118 $ 61,905,948 5.7
Top 10 88,088,338 91,306,608 -3.5
Top 20 107,208,069 116,915,108 -8.3
Top 20 vs. 2011 107,208,069 81,999,977 30.7

Last Updated: February 6, 2012 at 4:30PM ET

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