Weekend Box Office (February 10 - 12, 2012)

by Gitesh Pandya

THIS WEEKEND Audiences poured into North American multiplexes sending grosses sky high as for the first time in box office history, four new releases simultaneously opened north of $20M each over a non-holiday frame. Plus, existing films managed relatively good holds despite the new competition. In fact, overall business even beat out the levels seen recently over the busy Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's weekends.

Leading the busy frame was the spectacular debut of the romantic drama The Vow which bowed to $41.2M, according to final studio figures, as the Channing Tatum-Rachel McAdams love story connected with its target audience of young women. Inspired by a true story, the PG-13 film about a man who must make his newlywed wife fall in love with him again after she loses her memory in an accident soared above expectations and was successfully made into an event film for the female audience by Sony's marketing. Starpower was a major factor as Tatum scored with this audience two years ago with Dear John which debuted to $30.5M over Super Bowl weekend. McAdams has had her own share of romance hits with The Notebook and The Time Traveler's Wife giving Vow a one-two punch of big names for both lead roles.

Sony knew its audience and aggressively promoted the film creating lots of anticipation especially on social media platforms. The release date right ahead of Valentine's Day was not an accident and sales should continue to stay solid in the coming days. A marketplace filled with action movies created a void that the romance took full advantage of. Vow opened in 2,958 theaters and averaged a sizzling $13,929 delivering the sixth best February debut ever. Reviews were not very positive and audiences were only moderately pleased with what they got as the film's CinemaScore grade was only a B. Studio research showed that the crowd was 72% female and 55% under 25. Energizing the box office, the $30M production generated the best opening weekend of any film since the latest Twilight installment last November which coincidentally debuted on home video this weekend.

Though he didn't take control of first place, Denzel Washington did score the second largest opening of his career with his latest action offering Safe House which collected $40.2M from 3,119 locations for a muscular $12,880 average. Universal's $85M CIA thriller co-starring Ryan Reynolds also beat out industry expectations - as so many films this year have been doing. Reviews were mixed but Washington's reliable fan base came out in full force thanks in part to a strong marketing push by the studio. The only film in the Oscar-winning actor's career to open better was 2007's American Gangster with $43.6M. Safe House, Gangster, and Training Day all featured Denzel Washington in "bad guy" roles. The bankable actor is one of those very rare stars in Hollywood who can consistently draw paying audiences in both good and bad roles. Fans love to root for his anti-hero characters.

A hefty investment into marketing paid dividends for the R-rated pic. Licensing music from Jay Z and Kanye West for the TV spots could not have been cheap and buying a Super Bowl ad added to the marketing costs too. Washington hit the pavement promoting the film on each coast sitting down with both Letterman and Leno this past week in the days leading up to the opening. Washington and Reynolds both have sex appeal which broadened the audience for the action film as males and females were split evenly 50/50. That is impressive for a violent action film with lots of killing and gunplay promised in the ads. Safe House skewed older and ethnic as expected with 62% of the audience being 30 or older and 69% being non-white. The CinemaScore grade was an A- and Saturday increased by a nice 20% putting it just $100,000 behind The Vow that day.

With Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson replacing Brendan Fraser as the anchor, Journey 2: The Mysterious Island enjoyed a strong debut in third place with $27.3M from 3,470 locations for a superb $7,878 average. The 3D follow-up to 2008's summer pic Journey to the Center of the Earth was high on adventure and special effects and played well to the family crowd as evidenced by the astounding 94% surge on Saturday over the opening day. Island earned mixed reviews from critics but fared better with paying audiences who gave the PG-rated actioner a good A- CinemaScore. With the Presidents Day holiday coming up next week, many schools having week-long winter breaks in February, and no major kidpics coming until March's The Lorax, the road ahead looks promising for the Warner Bros. sequel.

Yet another new release followed in fourth place as the 3D upgrade of Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace opened to $22.5M from 2,655 theaters for a solid $8,463 average. The latest franchise re-release for George Lucas upped the lifetime domestic haul for Menace to $453.6M allowing the Jar Jar Binks pic to rise two spots to number five on the list of all-time domestic blockbusters. The director's intention is to bring 3D versions of all six Star Wars films to the big screen, one year at a time. Fifteen years ago, Lucas and Fox collected a hefty $251.1M from the re-releases of the original trilogy - dubbed Special Editions - which were spaced about a month apart. Menace had a frontloaded weekend as fans rushed out on opening day as Friday saw $8.7M while Saturday dipped by 1%. All other new releases saw jumps on Saturday.

With this new quartet, the number of $20M+ openers this year jumped to nine which is well ahead of last year's four and 2010's five. Total ticket sales every weekend this year have been better than the corresponding frame from last year with most cruising ahead by more than 20%. However, every weekend has also been down versus 2010 when Avatar was crushing box office records in the first quarter. Still, the industry has bounced back better than expected compared to the end of 2011 when so many films were underperforming. This year has seen at least seven films blow past expectations on opening weekend and the feverish spending has led to this weekend becoming the second largest February frame ever trailing only Presidents Day 2010 when three pics debuted to $30M+.

The found-footage super hero hit Chronicle followed with $12.1M dropping only 45% in its second weekend which was terrific given the level of new action competition. The $12M production has banked an impressive $40M in ten days and should finish with about $65-70M for Fox. Rival sophomore The Woman in Black fell by 52% to $10.1M for a ten-day cume of $35.3M. It was a good hold for a film that had its core audience of young women yanked away by Channing Tatum. Look for the CBS Films title to reach roughly $55M.

Qui-Gon Jinn popped up again in the top ten with The Grey which declined by 46% to $5M for a $42.8M total for Open Road. Drew Barrymore's whale tale Big Miracle suffered a big drop falling 49% in its second weekend to $3.9M. With $13.3M in ten days, Universal's $40M pic should end its run with a disappointing $20M.

The Descendants, the only Best Picture contender still in the top ten, took ninth with $3.4M, off 24%, for a $70.7M sum to date for Fox Searchlight. Rounding out the top ten was Sony's Underworld: Awakening with $2.5M, down 55%, for a $58.9M sum.

Two of the three Best Picture nominees in wide release outside of the top ten posted decent holds on the road to Oscar Night. Front-runner The Artist collected $2.2M, down 14%, for a cume of $24M for The Weinstein Co. Its main challenger Hugo dipped 22% to $1.8M raising the total to $64.4M for Paramount. Things were not as promising for the Tom Hanks-Sandra Bullock drama Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close which tumbled 61% to $1.5M. Warner Bros. has taken in $29.4M thus far and does not look to add much more to the total. Hanks has now had two clunkers in less than a year as last summer's Larry Crowne was also rejected by ticket buyers.

The top ten films grossed $168.3M which was up a hefty 31% from last year when Just Go With It opened in the top spot with $30.5M; but down 8% from 2010 when Valentine's Day debuted at number one with $56.3M over the three-day portion of the long Presidents Day frame.

Compared to projections, The Vow, Safe House, and Journey 2 all opened well ahead of my respective forecasts of $23M, $24M, and $17M. Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace 3D opened close to my $21M prediction.

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

Watch the NEW trailer for The Amazing Spider-Man and check the chart for the Oscar Nominees and Grosses.

For a NEW review of Safe House visit The Chief Report.

Be sure to check back on Thursday for a complete summary, including projections, for next weekend when Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance, This Means War, and The Secret World of Arrietty all open over the long Presidents Day weekend.

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

# Title Feb 10 - 12 Feb 3 - 5 % Chg. Theaters Weeks AVG Cumulative Distributor
1 The Vow $ 41,202,458 2,958 1 $ 13,929 $ 41,202,458 Sony
2 Safe House 40,172,720 3,119 1 12,880 40,172,720 Universal
3 Journey 2: The Mysterious Island 27,335,363 3,470 1 7,878 27,335,363 Warner Bros.
4 Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace 3D 22,469,932 2,655 1 8,463 22,469,932 Fox
5 Chronicle 12,092,589 22,004,098 -45.0 2,908 2 4,158 39,959,856 Fox
6 The Woman in Black 10,102,658 20,874,072 -51.6 2,856 2 3,537 35,258,145 CBS
7 The Grey 5,045,620 9,300,999 -45.8 2,801 3 1,801 42,787,884 Open Road
8 Big Miracle 3,946,050 7,760,205 -49.2 2,133 2 1,850 13,281,985 Universal
9 The Descendants 3,441,676 4,552,943 -24.4 1,581 13 2,177 70,671,289 Fox Searchlight
10 Underworld: Awakening 2,480,156 5,500,744 -54.9 1,657 4 1,497 58,914,525 Sony
11 Red Tails 2,417,386 4,735,595 -49.0 1,580 4 1,530 45,080,772 Fox
12 One for the Money 2,300,953 5,206,279 -55.8 2,056 3 1,119 23,679,658 Lionsgate
13 The Artist 2,240,252 2,612,607 -14.3 808 12 2,773 24,002,038 Weinstein Co.
14 Hugo 1,765,205 2,272,390 -22.3 702 12 2,515 64,442,024 Paramount
15 Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close 1,473,011 3,802,367 -61.3 1,375 8 1,071 29,406,900 Warner Bros.
16 Man on a Ledge 1,301,222 4,351,036 -70.1 1,423 3 914 17,471,432 Summit
17 Contraband 1,259,340 3,408,255 -63.1 1,081 5 1,165 64,642,825 Universal
18 The Iron Lady 1,155,969 1,898,183 -39.1 512 7 2,258 22,797,264 Weinstein Co.
19 Beauty and the Beast 3D 840,111 2,489,000 -66.2 678 5 1,239 46,463,306 Disney
20 Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol 706,967 1,702,914 -58.5 469 9 1,507 206,514,768 Paramount
Top 5 $ 143,273,062 $ 65,440,118 118.9
Top 10 168,289,222 88,088,338 91.0
Top 20 183,749,638 107,208,069 71.4
Top 20 vs. 2011 183,749,638 143,441,288 28.1

Last Updated: February 13, 2012 at 6:20PM ET

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