Weekend Box Office (February 17 - 20, 2012)

by Gitesh Pandya

THIS WEEKEND The long Presidents Day holiday frame saw a close battle between four films within a $2M range competing for the top spot but it was Denzel Washington who audiences selected as commander-in-chief of the box office as his action holdover Safe House beat all competitors in its second weekend to claim first place. The next two spots also went to two of last week's overperforming films which both remained popular with North American ticket buyers. Rounding out the top five were new releases with Nicolas Cage's Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengenace targeting males in fourth and Reese Witherspoon's This Means War playing to women in fifth. The overall marketplace over the four-day Friday-to-Monday period once again beat last year's levels as spending was spread out across a variety of titles with no one film dominating the scene.

Washington's action thriller Safe House led the long weekend as Universal's CIA pic grossed $27.5M, according to final studio figures, thanks to a 41% decline over the Friday-to-Sunday span. The 11-day total surged to $81.8M and the film marked the first time a holdover ruled Presidents Day weekend since 2005's Hitch. House's ten-day take of $78M was just a bit off from the $80.4M that his 2007 hit American Gangster made over the same period of time. That film's $130.2M total stands as the Oscar winner's career best, however Safe House has a shot at beating it if it continues to play well in the coming weeks.

Swapping positions from last weekend's close race, The Vow settled for the runner-up spot this time with $26.6M including a 44% drop over the three-day period. Sony has banked a stellar $88.6M after 11 days easily beating the $56.1M that Channing Tatum's 2010 romance Dear John grossed over the same span. A finish near the $130M mark could result for this hit as well. Vow cost about $30M to produce, though, which was about one-third as much as Safe House's $85M budget.

Posting the best hold in the top ten was the effects-driven adventure sequel Journey 2: The Mysterious Island which slipped to $25.5M for a three-day decline of only 27%. The Warner Bros. franchise film starring Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson has banked an impressive $59.1M in its first 11 days and could end up beating the $101.7M of its 2008 predecessor which was headlined by Brendan Fraser. This is the second consecutive action franchise that The Rock has stepped into with encouraging results. Last April's Fast Five went on to score the highest gross ever in the decade-long series and this summer the former wrestler steps into G.I. Joe: Retaliation hoping to give that series a boost too.

Leading the weekend's new releases was the Nicolas Cage sequel Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance which landed in fourth place with $25.5M over four days. Averaging $8,025 from 3,174 theaters, the 3D action pic took in half the business of its 2D predecessor which shattered the Presidents Day opening weekend record in 2007 with $52M over the four-day session. According to studio research, the audience was 61% male and 52% over 25 while the CinemaScore grade was a poor C+. The new Rider installment was reportedly produced for a lower cost than the first film.

Opening in fifth place was the romantic action-comedy This Means War starring Reese Witherspoon, Chris Pine, and Tom Hardy with $20M. The Fox release about a pair of CIA studs using their agency tricks to compete for the same woman averaged $6,274 from 3,189 theaters. Reviews were dismal but audiences were mostly satisfied with what they got as the CinemaScore grade was a good A-. As expected, adult women made up the primary audience as studio research showed that the crowd was 65% female and 60% 25 and older. The three-day take of $17.4M was in the same neighborhood as the openings for some of Witherspoon's previous starring vehicles like the $16.8M of last year's Water for Elephants and the $16.4M of 2005's Just Like Heaven.

Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace 3D fell sharply in its second weekend to $9.9M for an 11-day total of $35.8M. In lifetime box office terms, that allowed the Jar Jar Binks tale to surpass the original Star Wars for the number four spot on the list of all-time domestic blockbusters with $466.9M. The sci-fi pic Chronicle held up well in its third round with $9.2M for a $52.6M cume for Fox.

Following in eighth with $8.7M was the Miyazaki animated film The Secret World of Arrietty which debuted in 1,522 locations for a $5,706 average for Disney. The supernatural thriller The Woman in Black grossed $7.8M for a $46.4M total. Rounding out the top ten was Liam Neeson's The Grey with $3.7M and a cume to date of $48.6M.

The top ten films grossed $164.9M over the four-day holiday frame which was up 9% from last year when Unknown opened in the top spot with $25.5M; but down 23% from 2010's holiday when Valentine's Day debuted at number one with $63.1M.

Compared to four-day projections, Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance opened below my $35M forecast while This Means War debuted ahead of my $17M prediction. The Secret World of Arrietty was ahead of my $6M projection.

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

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

For a 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 Good Deeds, Act of Valor, Wanderlust, and Gone all open.

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# Title Feb 17 - 20 Feb 10 - 12 % Chg. Theaters Weeks AVG Cumulative Distributor
1 Safe House $ 27,542,825 $ 40,172,720 -31.4 3,121 2 $ 8,825 $ 81,812,440 Universal
2 The Vow 26,640,786 41,202,458 -35.3 2,958 2 9,006 88,567,623 Sony
3 Journey 2: The Mysterious Island 25,934,109 27,335,363 -5.1 3,500 2 7,410 59,050,451 Warner Bros.
4 Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance 25,470,773 3,174 1 8,025 25,470,773 Sony
5 This Means War 20,006,912 3,189 1 6,274 21,616,717 Fox
6 Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace 3D 9,920,675 22,469,932 -55.8 2,655 2 3,737 35,793,910 Fox
7 Chronicle 9,164,061 12,092,589 -24.2 2,556 3 3,585 52,643,487 Fox
8 The Secret World of Arrietty 8,684,864 1,522 1 5,706 8,684,864 Disney
9 The Woman in Black 7,794,176 10,102,658 -22.9 2,561 3 3,043 46,404,794 CBS
10 The Grey 3,717,234 5,045,620 -26.3 2,107 4 1,764 48,610,293 Open Road
11 The Descendants 3,489,672 3,441,676 1.4 1,243 14 2,807 75,572,442 Fox Searchlight
12 Big Miracle 3,162,190 3,946,050 -19.9 1,634 3 1,935 17,605,685 Universal
13 The Artist 2,971,453 2,240,252 32.6 808 13 3,678 28,070,412 Weinstein Co.
14 Hugo 2,201,239 1,765,205 24.7 558 13 3,945 67,287,363 Paramount
15 Red Tails 1,769,318 2,417,386 -26.8 1,009 5 1,754 47,885,854 Fox
16 Underworld: Awakening 1,350,106 2,480,156 -45.6 826 5 1,635 61,593,907 Sony
17 The Iron Lady 1,296,474 1,155,969 12.2 623 8 2,081 24,656,260 Weinstein Co.
18 One for the Money 929,511 2,300,953 -59.6 933 4 996 25,605,720 Lionsgate
19 Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close 771,146 1,473,011 -47.6 577 9 1,336 30,774,123 Warner Bros.
20 Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked 684,115 535,037 27.9 400 10 1,710 129,872,610 Fox
Top 5 $ 125,595,405 $ 143,273,062 -12.3
Top 10 164,876,415 168,289,222 -2.0
Top 20 183,501,639 183,749,638 -0.1
Top 20 vs. Prez Day 2011 183,501,639 166,031,818 10.5

Last Updated: February 21, 2012 at 4:30PM ET

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