Weekend Box Office (February 5 - 7, 2010)

by Gitesh Pandya

THIS WEEKEND In a surprise upset victory, the new romance saga Dear John booted seven-time champ Avatar from the number one spot at the North American box office powered by young women chasing after Hollywood hunk Channing Tatum. John Travolta (the Tatum of the late 1970s) saw his new action thriller From Paris With Love bomb settling for third place. Overall ticket sales slipped from last weekend thanks in part to the Super Bowl distracting millions of Americans.

The young ladies couldn't resist a man in uniform as the soldier story Dear John surged past industry expectations to capture the top slot at the multiplexes with a $30.5M opening weekend, according to final studio figures. Invading 2,969 theaters, the PG-13 drama starring Tatum and Amanda Seyfried averaged a muscular $10,262 per site. Eager to take credit for the remarkable performance were Relativity Media which produced and Sony's Screen Gems unit which handled marketing and distribution duties. It was the second biggest opening ever over Super Bowl weekend nearly beating the $31.1M of the Hannah Montana/Miley Cyrus 3D concert film from two years ago which played in just 683 locations but charged $15 per ticket for a scorching $45,561 average.

With Hollywood too busy in recent weeks rolling out underperforming films from over-50 actors like Travolta, Mel Gibson, and Harrison Ford, neglected teen girls found in Dear John the exact type of entertainment they were looking to pay top dollar for. According to Sony's research, a whopping 84% of the audience was female while 64% was under 21. The $25M film opened better than From Paris With Love, Edge of Darkness, and Extraordinary Measures - combined. John even powered ahead of the $27.8M debut of the star-studded book-based date flick He's Just Not That Into You from exactly one year ago.

Reviews were mostly bad so the studio instead took its case directly to the customers scheduling many word-of-mouth screenings to build buzz and promoting the film with the U.S. Army and other military organizations. The lead actors were also sent to strategic locations for public appearances where, conveniently, teenage girls went into screaming frenzies. Dear John benefited from a release date just a week before Valentine's Day and had a built-in audience of readers of the Nicholas Sparks book. 2004's The Notebook, also based on one of his novels, turned into a major sleeper hit that summer. His next book-turned-movie The Last Song stars Miley Cyrus and hits cinemas at the end of next month over Easter weekend opposite the 3D actioner Clash of the Titans.

After its seven-week reign at the top of the box office, James Cameron's Oscar-nominated juggernaut Avatar slipped to second place but still generated a healthy $22.9M. Off 27%, the Fox smash boosted its domestic haul to $629.3M. It was only the second time in its entire run that the weekend decline was more than 20%, however much of that was due to the expected hit Sunday will take because of the Super Bowl. Compared to last weekend, Friday and Saturday slipped by just 18% each but Sunday fell by 47%. Overseas, Avatar grossed an estimated $76M this weekend, down 20%, lifting the record international tally to $1.58 billion and the global tally to an eye-popping $2.21 billion. Reaching $2.5 billion should be easy for the 3D extravaganza.

Action fans showed little interest in John Travolta's bald head and goatee as the actor's latest offering From Paris With Love bowed in third place with $8.2M from 2,722 theaters for a weak $2,997 average. The R-rated espionage thriller was directed by Pierre Morel whose hit thriller Taken was the big surprise winner over last year's Super Bowl frame. This time, moviegoers were not excited and mostly avoided the French-set action flick. Reviews were negative for the Lionsgate release.

Audiences abandoned Mel Gibson as his revenge thriller Edge of Darkness tumbled by 60% in its second weekend to $6.9M. After ten days, the Warner Bros. release has collected $28.9M and is headed for a finish of roughly $45M. On the other hand, Dwayne Johnson's kidpic The Tooth Fairy posted another good hold in its third round dropping 34% to $6.6M. Fox's 17-day total stands at $34.5M.

Falling a steep 55% in its second weekend was the romantic comedy When in Rome which grossed $5.5M putting the ten-day sum at a decent $20.9M for Buena Vista. Following in seventh was The Book of Eli with $4.7M, off 47%, giving Warner Bros. $82M to date.

Fox Searchlight expanded its Oscar contender Crazy Heart from 239 to 819 theaters and saw ticket sales climb 55% to $3.6M for an eighth place finish. Averaging $4,356 per site, the Jeff Bridges starrer scored three nods for Best Actor, Best Supporting Actress, and Best Song. The film has already earned many wins in the actor and song categories of other awards groups. Cume is now $11.1M.

Sony's supernatural thriller Legion tumbled 52% to $3.5M lifting its cume to $34.7M. Sherlock Holmes rounded out the top ten and broke the double century mark in the process. The Robert Downey Jr. pic fell 44% to $2.5M raising the total to $201.5M. It became the record tenth release of 2009 to jump the $200M mark. With $242.5M from overseas markets, the global tally for the Guy Ritchie-directed franchise-starter now stands at an impressive $444M.

Oscar nominees for Best Picture that are still in theaters benefited from the higher profile. Witnessing smaller declines than before were The Blind Side which dipped 17% to $2.5M and Up in the Air which slipped 19% to $2.3M. Totals are $241.5M and $76.6M, respectively. Lionsgate's Precious expanded from 222 to 669 locations but still struggled with audiences. Despite more than doubling its weekend gross, the urban drama took in $474,156 averaging only $709 per site. Total is $46.1M.

The top ten films grossed $94.8M which was off 1% from last year's Super Bowl frame when Taken opened in the top spot with $24.7M; and even with 2008's football weekend when Hannah Montana & Miley Cyrus: Best of Both Worlds 3D debuted at number one with $31.1M. The game fell one week earlier on the calendar during those two years.

Compared to projections, Dear John nearly doubled my $16M forecast while From Paris With Love debuted below my $14M prediction.

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

Check the UPDATED chart for the Top February Openings. For a review of The Lovely Bones visit The Chief Report.

Be sure to check back on Thursday for a complete summary, including projections, for next weekend when The Wolfman, Valentine's Day, and Percy Jackson & The Olympians all open against the start of the 2010 Winter Olympics.

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

# Title Feb 5 - 7 Jan 29 - 31 % Chg. Theaters Weeks AVG Cumulative Distributor
1 Dear John $ 30,468,614 2,969 1 $ 10,262 $ 30,468,614 Sony
2 Avatar 22,850,881 31,280,029 -26.9 3,000 8 7,617 629,344,204 Fox
3 From Paris With Love 8,158,860 2,722 1 2,997 8,158,860 Lionsgate
4 Edge of Darkness 6,855,371 17,214,384 -60.2 3,066 2 2,236 28,947,851 Warner Bros.
5 The Tooth Fairy 6,629,595 9,998,109 -33.7 3,218 3 2,060 34,462,568 Fox
6 When in Rome 5,549,129 12,350,041 -55.1 2,456 2 2,259 20,944,734 Buena Vista
7 The Book of Eli 4,717,335 8,908,286 -47.0 2,820 4 1,673 82,045,140 Warner Bros.
8 Crazy Heart 3,567,671 2,309,245 54.5 819 8 4,356 11,105,401 Fox Searchlight
9 Legion 3,453,651 7,176,375 -51.9 2,339 3 1,477 34,731,934 Sony
10 Sherlock Holmes 2,535,174 4,515,344 -43.9 1,805 7 1,405 201,484,470 Warner Bros.
11 The Blind Side 2,503,224 3,021,317 -17.1 1,740 12 1,439 241,529,593 Warner Bros.
12 Up in the Air 2,283,113 2,801,141 -18.5 1,547 10 1,476 76,614,306 Paramount
13 The Lovely Bones 2,262,399 4,726,828 -52.1 2,330 7 971 41,485,830 Paramount
14 Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel 2,125,922 3,997,136 -46.8 1,965 7 1,082 212,156,137 Fox
15 It's Complicated 2,080,395 3,804,215 -45.3 1,671 7 1,245 107,534,385 Universal
16 The Spy Next Door 918,846 2,075,020 -55.7 1,007 4 912 22,858,012 Lionsgate
17 A Single Man 627,124 553,019 13.4 353 9 1,777 6,178,651 Weinstein Co.
18 Extraordinary Measures 521,805 2,619,257 -80.1 1,153 3 453 11,854,694 CBS
19 An Education 763,234 119,146 540.6 761 18 1,003 9,622,621 Sony Classics
20 Precious 474,156 215,131 120.4 669 13 709 46,057,209 Lionsgate
Top 5 $ 74,963,321 $ 79,750,849 -6.0
Top 10 94,786,281 103,970,747 -8.8
Top 20 109,346,499 120,630,401 -9.4
Top 20 vs. 2009 109,346,499 145,790,069 -25.0

Last Updated: February 8, 2010 at 10:30PM ET