Weekend Box Office (February 24 - 26, 2012)

by Gitesh Pandya

THIS WEEKEND American audiences were in the mood to support the troops as the Navy SEAL film Act of Valor ruled the Oscar frame with impressive results. Tyler Perry and Jennifer Aniston both saw some of the worst openings of their careers with their new offerings Good Deeds and Wanderlust, respectively, while Amanda Seyfried proved that she can't open a film on her own as her latest picture Gone was dead on arrival. Top Academy Award hopefuls continued to see respectable business outside the top ten from movie fans eager to see the likely winners before Sunday night's big ceremony.

Relativity Media enjoyed its second overperforming number one hit in four months with the military actioner Act of Valor which exceeded expectations debuting to $24.5M, according to final studio figures. The bold experimental film featuring active duty Navy SEALs acting in a fictional story averaged a muscular $8,054 from 3,039 theaters and finished well ahead of all competing films. A heavy male-skewing marketing push that tapped into American patriotism worked well allowing the R-rated entry to open better than most other action vehicles this year. Critics and paying audiences had vastly different opinions, though, as reviews were mostly negative while moviegoers gave a glowing A CinemaScore grade.

Valor and its CIA rescue operation plot played heavily to men as 71% of the crowd was male, according to studio research. 60% was 25 and older while 63% was Caucasian. Four pricey TV spots airing throughout Super Bowl Sunday were key ingredients to reaching the target audience and the investment seemed to have paid off. The film was produced for $12M and acquired for $13M by Relativity which also backed it with aggressive marketing support. Releasing a film featuring real-life American heroes in harm's way during a time when politicians are bickering during a nasty election season may also have been a good move to lure people into theaters for some home-grown, testosterone-filled entertainment.

Tyler Perry took second place with his latest film Good Deeds which debuted to $15.6M from 2,132 locations for a $7,310 average. Though a solid performance, it was the second worst opening ever for the filmmaker beating out only 2007's Daddy's Little Girls which bowed to $11.2M after a Wednesday launch. Perry has now directed eleven films over the past six years and his best results come from when he plays his popular Madea character. In Good Deeds, he played a new character and essentially anchored the film on his own with just himself on the poster while co-star Thandie Newton got much less visibility. The continued strength of Denzel Washington's Safe House, which months ago was never expected to be in double digit millions in its third weekend, also may have been a factor. Most of Perry's non-Madea films have opened near the $20M mark.

Posting another low decline for the second weekend in a row was the adventure hit Journey 2: The Mysterious Island with $13.4M, off only 33%. The Warner Bros. release has now banked $76.6M in North America to date, a healthy 27% ahead of its 2008 predecessor starring Brendan Fraser.

Denzel Washington came within striking distance of scoring another $100M blockbuster this weekend as his crime thriller Safe House grossed $10.9M, down 54%, raising the cume to $97.6M for Universal. Smashing nine digits on Saturday was The Vow which pulled in $9.9M for a 57% drop. The Sony release has upped its sum to $102.9M making it the second $100M+ grosser for Channing Tatum after 2009's G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra and the fourth for Rachel McAdams, though the first one for her as an anchor.

Faring worse was Nicolas Cage's 3D comic sequel Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance which tumbled 59% to $9M in its sophomore session. With $38M to date, look for a $50M finish which would be less than half of the $115.8M of its 2007 predecessor which did not have 3D surcharges in its total. For those moviegoers wanting to combine the violence of Cage's film and the romance of Rachel's pic there was Reese Witherspoon's This Means War which settled into seventh place with $8.4M. Falling 52% in its second weekend, the Fox release has collected $33.5M in ten days and should end up at $50-55M.

After co-starring in two $100M+ grossers last year, the usually reliable Jennifer Aniston suffered one of the worst openings of her career in a lead role of a wide release with the raunchy comedy Wanderlust. Co-starring Paul Rudd, the R-rated pic bowed to $6.5M from 2,002 theaters for a weak $3,260 average. Earning fairly positive reviews, the tale of a married Manhattan couple discovering life on a hippie commune performed exactly like the 2009 couple-makes-radical-lifestyle-change flop Did You Hear About the Morgans? featuring Hugh Grant and Sarah Jessica Parker. That film opened to just $6.6M. Wanderlust failed to reach the range of Rudd's recent R-rated comedy projects I Love You, Man and Role Models which each debuted near the $18M mark. A bad title for the $30M+ production didn't help either. Women made up 57% of the crowd, 61% were 30 and older, and the CinemaScore grade was a disappointing B-.

Also rejected by audiences was Amanda Seyfried's kidnapping thriller Gone which debuted to only $4.8M from 2,186 locations for a dull $2,182 average. The Summit release featured no other major names and Seyfried's biggest career hits have come from films with big name co-stars so few found it necessary to pay top dollar to see this one in theaters. Plus the target audience of young females are still enamored by her Dear John co-star Channing Tatum who continues to pull in solid business with Vow which did more than twice the business this weekend despite being in its third frame. Reviews for Gone were dreadful, the CinemaScore was a poor C+, and the audience skewed 64% female and 61% 18 and older.

Disney's Miyazaki import The Secret World of Arrietty declined by only 33% in its second round grossing $4.4M for a $14.5M total after ten days. A $25-28M final could result.

Audiences continued to catch up on the top Oscar winners. Frontrunner The Artist added 158 screens and jumped up 20% to $2.9M upping the cume to $31.8M. The Weinstein Co. release stands to benefit in the weeks ahead although a black-and-white silent film from French filmmakers will only go so far with mainstream America. The pic has added $19.7M to its cume since the nominations came out.

Fox Searchlight's The Descendants will be happy with the fact that it grossed more money between nomination morning and awards night than any other Best Picture candidate. This weekend saw a 27% drop to $2.1M for a $78.5M total, $27.2M of which came since it earned its Oscar nods. Martin Scorsese's Hugo added another round of cash to its total over the past month, however it still is far from where a movie with a budget of its size would want to be at towards the end of its domestic run. The Paramount title slipped 9% to $1.5M lifting the cume to $69.4M, $13.5M of which came since being nominated.

The top ten films grossed $107.4M which was up 16% from last year when Hall Pass opened in the top spot with $13.5M; and up 3% from 2010 when Shutter Island remained at number one in its second weekend with $22.7M.

Compared to projections, Act of Valor surged ahead of my $14M forecast while Good Deeds fell short of my $20M prediction. Wanderlust opened to half of my $12M projection and Gone was very close to my $6M forecast.

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

Watch the Oscar response for The Dictator 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 Monday for final figures and again on Thursday for a complete summary, including projections, for next weekend when The Lorax and Project X both open.

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# Title Feb 24 - 26 Feb 17 - 19 % Chg. Theaters Weeks AVG Cumulative Distributor
1 Act of Valor $ 24,476,632 3,039 1 $ 8,054 $ 24,476,632 Relativity
2 Good Deeds 15,583,924 2,132 1 7,310 15,583,924 Lionsgate
3 Journey 2: The Mysterious Island 13,389,102 19,845,282 -32.5 3,350 3 3,997 76,645,453 Warner Bros.
4 Safe House 10,926,145 23,641,575 -53.8 3,052 3 3,580 97,622,705 Universal
5 The Vow 9,916,774 23,065,077 -57.0 3,038 3 3,264 102,924,117 Sony
6 Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance 9,006,135 22,115,334 -59.3 3,174 2 2,837 38,038,217 Sony
7 This Means War 8,425,010 17,405,930 -51.6 3,189 2 2,642 33,495,646 Fox
8 Wanderlust 6,526,650 2,002 1 3,260 6,526,650 Universal
9 Gone 4,770,360 2,186 1 2,182 4,770,360 Summit
10 The Secret World of Arrietty 4,351,115 6,446,395 -32.5 1,522 2 2,859 14,508,920 Disney
11 Chronicle 3,685,036 7,619,383 -51.6 1,797 4 2,051 57,984,963 Fox
12 Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace 3D 3,174,955 7,966,431 -60.1 1,618 3 1,962 40,444,585 Fox
13 The Artist 2,905,858 2,430,360 19.6 966 14 3,008 31,779,657 Weinstein Co.
14 The Woman in Black 2,722,485 6,679,196 -59.2 1,727 4 1,576 50,451,681 CBS
15 The Descendants 2,133,442 2,932,824 -27.3 889 15 2,400 78,460,135 Fox Searchlight
16 Hugo 1,510,760 1,655,684 -8.8 501 14 3,015 69,354,704 Paramount
17 The Grey 800,285 3,142,111 -74.5 917 5 873 50,179,091 Open Road
18 The Iron Lady 694,982 1,063,704 -34.7 522 9 1,331 25,721,579 Weinstein Co.
19 Big Miracle 668,805 2,263,515 -70.5 628 4 1,065 18,903,580 Universal
20 Red Tails 437,013 1,442,093 -69.7 489 6 894 48,670,098 Fox
Top 5 $ 74,292,577 $ 66,551,934 11.6
Top 10 107,371,847 112,519,593 -4.6
Top 20 126,105,468 149,714,894 -15.8
Top 20 vs. 2011 126,105,468 103,701,626 21.6

Last Updated: February 27, 2012 at 5:00PM ET

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