Weekend Box Office (March 16 - 18, 2012)

by Gitesh Pandya

THIS WEEKEND Odd couple Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill had North American moviegoers rolling in the aisles as their action-comedy remake 21 Jump Street debuted at number one with a terrific opening. No other film premiered in wide release and the overall marketplace fell below 2011 levels for the first time all year.

Sony scored a top spot debut with its undercover cop comedy 21 Jump Street which opened with $36.3M from 3,121 theaters for a muscular $11,632 average, according to final studio figures. It was the second biggest opening ever for an R-rated comedy outside of the prime summer season trailing only Jackass 3D which bowed to $50.4M in October 2010 helped by being a sequel and having extra ticket surcharges. It was the second impressive number one hit for Tatum in as many months following February's PG-13 romance hit The Vow which bowed to $41.2M. The actor-producer is on his way to enjoying back-to-back $100M+ grossers this spring. The slimmed-down Hill stumbled in December anchoring The Sitter, but he earned plenty of respect recently with his performance and Oscar nomination for Moneyball starring opposite another box office hunk in Brad Pitt.

A loose update on the 1980s television series which launched Johnny Depp's career, Jump Street attracted a broad audience as males made up 53% of the crowd while those under and over 25 were evenly split. Critics and audiences were divided, though, as reviews were remarkably positive while the CinemaScore grade was only a B. Plus Saturday sales were off 2% so the film's legs may not be as good as reviews would suggest. And with the box office juggernaut The Hunger Games ready to strike on Friday in more than 4,000 theaters, the cop pic will have its work cut out for it next weekend. Produced for $42M, 21 Jump Street will still turn a nice profit regardless of its overseas performance and could prompt a sequel. In a year overflowing with action hits, it was the first live-action studio comedy to truly attract a large turnout.

Universal's smash hit 3D toon The Lorax delivered strong results in its third weekend grossing $22.8M for second place. The Dr. Seuss pic faced no new competition for families and dropped by an acceptable 41% lifting the 17-day cume to a robust $158.4M which was enough to surpass the $154.5M final of 2008's 2D animated crowdpleaser Horton Hears a Who which boasted better starpower with the voices of Jim Carrey and Steve Carell. Lorax is now running a healthy 35% ahead of Horton and is on its way to breaking the $200M domestic mark. Only three March releases have ever managed to cross the double-century barrier - Alice in Wonderland, How To Train Your Dragon, and 300.

Fans of the mega-budgeted sci-fi epic John Carter were hoping that good word-of-mouth would lead to a solid sophomore hold, but that wasn't the case. Disney's pricey investment suffered a 55% tumble to $13.6M giving the effects-driven 3D pic $53.2M after ten days. The drop was in line with past spring action vehicles like 300 (54%), 10,000 B.C. (53%), and Clash of the Titans (57%). Should Carter play out in a similar way it could end its domestic run a bit above the $80M mark which would be disappointing given the mammoth production cost of over $250M plus the lavish marketing push. Overseas, holdover markets saw significant declines as the weekend brought in an estimated $40.7M from 54 territories with bows in three new markets including China. That represented an overall drop of 42% from last weekend however holdover markets averaged larger declines than that. The Mars pic has now collected $126.1M internationally and $179.3M across the planet we refer to as Earth. Reaching a final global total of $375M will be very hard which is unfortunate for the studio since roughly that amount was spent to produce and market the film.

The rest of the top ten was filled with aging titles falling into the $2-4M range. With Channing and Jonah taking away young adults looking for wild fun, the found-footage hit Project X tumbled 64% in its third round to $4M for Warner Bros. Close behind with $3.7M was the military actioner Act of Valor which fell 47% raising the total to an impressive $62.5M for Relativity.

Enjoying a surprisingly good hold was Eddie Murphy's latest comedy flop A Thousand Words which declined by only 41% to $3.6M. Paying audiences liked the film better than critics who panned the Paramount release. With $12M in ten days, the final gross for Words will still end up at a dismal level with roughly $22M.

Universal's CIA hit Safe House took in $2.7M, off 43%, giving the Denzel Washington movie $120.2M to date. Grossing $2.4M was another action hit, Journey 2: The Mysterious Island, which slipped only 34% for a $95M haul for Warner Bros. The worldwide haul has now surpassed $300M.

Will Ferrell's Spanish-language Mexsploitation comedy Casa De Mi Padre attracted solid business in its limited debut and found itself in ninth place for the weekend with $2.3M despite playing in just 382 theaters nationwide. The Lionsgate release averaged an encouraging $5,988 per location although Saturday saw no growth over Friday's opening day tally. Reviews were not very positive but a decent number of moviegoers came out for something different.

Rounding out the top ten was the action-romance This Means War which dropped 43% to $2.1M. Fox has banked $50.5M to date.

In limited release, Jason Segal's R-rated comedy Jeff Who Lives at Home was met with a dull response from audiences as the Paramount release collected just $855,709 from 254 theaters for a lackluster $3,369 average. Reviews were upbeat but moviegoers just didn't see a reason to pay top dollar to see this one right away.

Elsewhere, CBS Films enjoyed a good expansion for its cross-cultural tale Salmon Fishing in the Yemen which widened from 18 to 62 locations in its second weekend grossing $460,536. Averaging a solid $7,428, the well-reviewed film upped its sum to $768,936. Also, critically-acclaimed Cannes Grand Jury Prize winner The Kid with a Bike platformed very well with $50,000 from only three arthouses for a superb $16,667 average for IFC Films.

The top ten films grossed $93.6M which was down 5% from last year when Limitless opened in the top spot with $18.9M; and down 16% from 2010 when Alice in Wonderland remained at number one in its third round with $34.2M.

Compared to projections, 21 Jump Street opened ahead of my $28M forecast while The Lorax and John Carter were both very close to my respective predictions of $23M and $15M.

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

Watch the NEW trailer for Prometheus. 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 The Hunger Games opens unopposed ready to obliterate the competition.

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

# Title Mar 16 - 18 Mar 9 - 11 % Chg. Theaters Weeks AVG Cumulative Distributor
1 21 Jump Street $ 36,302,612 3,121 1 $ 11,632 $ 36,302,612 Sony
2 The Lorax 22,764,760 38,846,020 -41.4 3,769 3 6,040 158,387,775 Universal
3 John Carter 13,569,795 30,180,188 -55.0 3,749 2 3,620 53,227,248 Disney
4 Project X 4,044,159 11,142,103 -63.7 2,922 3 1,384 48,170,005 Warner Bros.
5 Act of Valor 3,733,697 6,991,877 -46.6 2,765 4 1,350 62,454,066 Relativity
6 A Thousand Words 3,632,932 6,176,280 -41.2 1,895 2 1,917 11,985,753 Paramount
7 Safe House 2,716,795 4,801,510 -43.4 1,920 6 1,415 120,209,890 Universal
8 Journey 2: The Mysterious Island 2,388,320 3,611,388 -33.9 1,935 6 1,234 94,994,006 Warner Bros.
9 Casa De Mi Padre 2,287,239 382 1 5,988 2,287,239 Lionsgate
10 This Means War 2,141,760 3,756,060 -43.0 1,660 5 1,290 50,541,542 Fox
11 Silent House 2,113,800 6,661,234 -68.3 2,124 2 995 10,605,544 Open Road
12 The Vow 2,094,103 3,842,485 -45.5 2,175 6 963 121,157,358 Sony
13 Friends With Kids 1,454,753 2,017,466 -27.9 640 2 2,273 4,184,735 Roadside Attr.
14 Good Deeds 1,374,996 2,904,004 -52.7 1,016 4 1,353 32,731,329 Lionsgate
15 The Artist 1,042,955 2,079,910 -49.9 1,155 17 903 42,108,374 Weinstein Co.
16 Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance 859,884 1,965,123 -56.2 1,024 5 840 49,742,276 Sony
17 Jeff Who Lives at Home 855,709 254 1 3,369 855,709 Paramount
18 Wanderlust 520,025 1,653,645 -68.6 698 4 745 16,744,125 Universal
19 Chronicle 489,090 904,569 -45.9 432 7 1,132 63,159,051 Fox
20 Hugo 487,073 623,315 -21.9 383 17 1,272 72,993,753 Paramount
Top 5 $ 80,415,023 $ 93,821,422 -14.3
Top 10 93,582,069 116,009,145 -19.3
Top 20 104,874,457 130,458,203 -19.6
Top 20 vs. 2011 104,874,457 110,471,828 -5.1

Last Updated: March 19, 2012 at 4:20PM ET

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