Even though the three Presidents Day weekend openers didn’t post any record-breaking or even overly impressive numbers the domination of this year’s box-office over 2011 continued, mostly thanks to the overwhelming strength of last weekend’s three biggest new releases. The Top 12 cume amounted to $143.5 million over the 3-day weekend representing an expected 17% decrease from the last frame. The number still easily topped last year’s Presidents Day weekend cume by 10.6%. The four day total of $173.1 million was up 11.2% from last year when Liam Neeson’s Unknown made its debut at #1 with $25.5 million taken over four days.
Last weekend’s impressive #2 opener Safe House handily climbed to the top spot of the charts this weekend with a $23.8 million cume drawn over three days. Considering its tremendous $40+ million opening last weekend its 40.8% decrease is terrific and reflects the positive word-of-mouth reflected by its “A-“ CinemaScore. Over four days the Denzel Washington starrer made $28.4 million putting its running total at $82.6 million after just 11 days on release. Universal’s film has already surpassed the domestic total gross of Washington’s last film, Unstoppable ($81.6 million). Considering its R-rating and the competitive marketplace for adult-oriented films the movie’s performance is incredibly impressive so far. Right now Safe House is the 7th-biggest movie ever for Washington domestically, but it’ll very quickly climb up the ranking and pass $100 million by the end of the next weekend, making it only the 4th film for Washington to do so.
As of now, Denzel Washington’s biggest film in North America is Ridley Scott’s American Gangster which broke out in 2007 and went on to gross $130.2 million. Safe House is currently tracking less than $1 million behind American Gangster and it is already showing signs of more longevity. Gangster couldn’t impress with its late legs despite good reviews and its potential status as an awards candidate. Safe House doesn’t have that, but, apart from next weekend’s Act of Valor which will make a dent into its audiences, it doesn’t have much direct competition coming up. Taking that into consideration Safe House is tracking towards a formidable $130-140 million finish. That means it is very likely now that Safe House will not only become Denzel Washington’s biggest film ever, but also become the biggest R-rated action flick since 2007’s 300 ($210.6 million). That is quite an impressive feat nowadays since most big action films are PG-13 now.
Last weekend’s winner, The Vow, had to relinquish its top spot and settle for #2 with a still-great $23.1 million weekend take (down 43.9%) and $26.6 million over the four-day period. Its running total now stands at $88.5 million making it Screen Gems’ biggest film ever domestically after just 11 days on release. To put this terrific number even more into perspective, it has passed The Notebook’s $81 million total which is already by itself considered a great number for the genre. Straight-forward romantic dramas like this one often have decent box-office runs, but rarely do they break-out in such a monumental fashion. Usually huge numbers are only reserved for this kind of movies when they are set against some major historical background like Titanic or Pearl Harbor. In The Vow’s case the main reasons for its success are the huge appeal of its both leading stars, Channing Tatum and Rachel McAdams, the similarity to their previous romantic dramas (The Notebook and Dear John) and the true story aspect. All that was also helped by a truly perfect release date, right before Valentine’s Day. On that day alone The Vow made over $11 million. But while many of these pre-Valentine’s Day releases crash and burn once the magical date is over (see Tatum’s own Dear John which couldn’t sustain any decent legs after its big opening), The Vow looks to defy that trend. Considering its big start and the genre, its second weekend hold is even more impressive than that of Safe House. Things are looking very bright for it in future as well as there is virtually no competition in the date movies department for the entirety of March which should allow for some prolonged legs. It will wind up with $135-145 million in the bank, making it, along with Safe House, one of the top contenders for the most surprising hits of 2012, even though the year is still young. Then again, remember 2009 – the year started out with two tremendous success stories too (Paul Blart: Mall Cop and Taken) and then actually went on to deliver other huge surprises like The Blind Side, Star Trek and, of course, Avatar. So, hopefully, this is just a sign of things to come.
The highest opener of the weekend was the comic book adaptation sequel Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance. This reboot/sequel which only connection to the first film is Nicholas Cage in the leading role brought in $25.7 million over four days, $22.1 million of which originated from the 3-day weekend which was enough for the 3rd spot of the charts. The film averaged $$6,963 from 3,174 theatres. This opening is a far cry from the first film’s Presidents Day start which made it to $45 .4 million over three days and $52 million over four. Now Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance is a really oddity in the cinematic landscape. The original film was a decent box-office success, making almost $116 million on a $110 million budget. It was, however, a complete critical failure and failed to incite a lot of love in the audiences as well as it barely passed the opening-to-total multiplier of 2.5. Taking that into account, it is extremely surprising that after five years a sequel has actually been made to this film. By this time many have forgotten the original film and judging by the opening weekend which was less than half than that of the original despite the added bonus of 3Dand five years of inflation few cared about seeing it. Even more unusual that this sequel ever took shape is the fact that it’s budget also came in at almost half of that of the first film. It is rare for a sequel to be cheaper than its predecessor, but almost unheard of for a sequel to cost just about half of the original’s production budget. Given its $57 million price tag, Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance should bring in a decent profit for Sony once worldwide business is taken into account. Domestically, however, this is set for a very short and underwhelming run. The reviews for the film are horrendous and the “C+” CinemaScore suggests that the audiences didn’t like this one much either. I see it landing in the $50-55 million range with a chance of not even ever topping the firs film’s 4-day opening. Then again, nothing more could have been expected from a movie arriving a good 2-3 years too late and, once again, to some pretty bad reception.
The fourth spot went to another sequel which, on the first glance, seemed equally unwelcome – Journey 2: The Mysterious Island. The predecessor stunned four years ago in the summer, but the sequel took too long and didn’t even see Brendan Fraser, the star of the original, return for the follow-up. Nevertheless, the second film took off terrifically last weekend and easily managed the best decline in the Top 10 this weekend. It dipped just 27.1% to $19.9 million, ever so barely missing the $20 million mark. Its second weekend was still just 5.2% down from the original’s opening. Over four days the 3D adventure flick made an amazing $26.4 million as it topped the Presidents Day at the box-office. With its running total at $59.5 million it is now tracking over $14 million ahead of Journey to the Center of the World. With the lack of huge summer weekdays and most likely not reaching the great late holds of the first film that gap will severely diminish quite soon. In particular the release of Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax in two weeks should deliver a heavy blow to its run. It will not only lose a bunch of 3D screens and a lot of its family audiences to it, but it will also have to give up its IMAX screens. Just a week later, John Carter will also hit 3D and IMAX screens, hurting Journey 2 even more. In other words, it needs to make as much as possible leading up to The Lorax’ release because afterwards it should disappear from theatres pretty quickly. With this kind of heavy competition ahead $100 million is still not assured for Journey 2 despite its great start: Nevertheless, it will at least get very close to the mark, ending up somewhere in the $95-105 million range. Topping the predecessor’s $101.7 million total looks like a 50/50 shot now. Given how under the radar this sequel looked prior to its release, the fact that it will at the very least get very close is already remarkable and, combined with its great overseas total (where it will soon fly past the first film’s number) should ensure a third movie to arrive sooner than later.
Fox’ action comedy This Means War opened at the 5th spot with $17.4 million from 3,189 venues over the 3-day weekend for a per-theatre-average of $5,452. The Reese Witherspoon’s vehicle passed the $20 million mark over the long Presidents Day weekend for a 4-day take of $20.4 million. With its Valentine’s Day sneaks included its total gross now stands at 22 million. It is a decent number given the film’s mediocre reviews and the “A-“ CinemaScore as well as a complete lack of direct competition over the next weeks should ensure at least somewhat solid legs. The opening itself, however, is underwhelming given its $65 million budget and the talent involved. Clearly it was steamrolled by The Vow among the female demographics that it was targeting. Reese Witherspoon continues to be a solid draw, even though she could never reach the heights of her Sweet Home Alabama ($127.2 million) breakout again. This Means War will find its way to a decent $55-60 million total, hoping for a better performance in overseas markets.
Despite the holiday weekend boost and little competition for family audiences, Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace 3D plummeted 64.4% in its sophomore weekend over the three-day portion, ending up in the 6h spot of the box-office. The $10.2 million four-day cume ($8 million over three days) brought the re-issue’s running gross to $36 million. This lifted its domestic lifetime total past that of Star Wars: Episode IV- A New Hope to $467.1 million and #4 of the all-time domestic chart. Now that the degree of its frontloading has been shown, it is perfectly clear that it won’t even approach a $500 million total domestically. Moreover, A New Hope will reclaim its position as the top title in the Star Wars franchise once it gets its 3D re-release in 2015. The Phantom Menace will go on to reach $48 million during its re-issue, making its performance more akin to that of E.T. – The 20th Anniversary Edition and Beauty and the Beast 3D than to that of The Lion King which stunned box-office followers by its terrific and surprisingly leggy performance when it was released in 3D last September.
The “found footage” superpowers thriller Chronicle continued to defy the trend of these movies being inherently frontloaded by delivering a solid 36.9% hold for a $7.6 million weekend at the 7th spot of the box-office. Over the whole Presidents Day weekend it made $9.2 million outing the $12 million-budgeted flick at $52.7 million after just 18 days. In just two weeks it will have to contend with another “found footage” film oriented at young adult audiences. However with Project X being rated R Chronicle shouldn’t be hit that hard and might even benefit from sneak-ins. I expect a smooth sailing throughout March on course to a final cume of $71 million.
The Woman in Black slid 33.6% and two slots down to #8 and $6.7 million over the 3-day weekend ($7.9 million over four days). By the end of Monday the British chiller made $46.5 million, almost three times its $13 million budget. The movie marks a very successful transition for Daniel Radcliffe from Harry Potter to other film roles. Moreover it has now become by far the biggest film for the distributor CBS Films. The only real upcoming competition the movie has in the horror department is the R-rated Silent House, but like in Chronicle’s case, the PG-13 rating will help here quite a bit. I see it crawling to $60 million eventually, displaying surprisingly solid legs for the genre.
The weekend’s most surprising opening comes from the smallest opener - The Secret World of Arriety. Penned by Hayao Miyazaki, the director of Japanese anime classics like Spirited Away ($10.1 million) or Princess Mononoke ($2.4 million) this animated Japanese re-telling of a classic English children’s fantasy novel started out of the gate with $6.5 million from 1,522 locations for a PTA of $4,242. Its 4-day gross totaled $8.1 million. It is an amazing number for a Japanese anime, already making it the 8th-biggest anime ever. For comparison, the last studio Ghibli release by Disney, Miyazaki’s Ponyo, made $15.1 million back in summer 2009. Arriety is more than halfway to passing its total gross and with its appeal to children as well as to adults (among which studio Ghibli has built up quite a reputation) long legs are guaranteed even with upcoming strong competition. In project it to finish with $22-26 million in North America, making it the third-highest grossing anime ever and the biggest non-Pokemon one.
Liam Neeson’s survival thriller The Grey dropped to #10 this weekend with $3.1 million (down 37.7%) drawn from its remaining 2,107 theatres. Over four days it made a decent $3.7 million with its total now at $48.7 million after four weeks. The movie could not capitalize well on its good reviews and word-of-mouth as it was hammered by the Super Bowl and the release of Safe House over the first three weeks of its release. Now it is shedding screens and theatres and it is too late to unfold any late legs. It will find its way to a $55 million total before leaving the theatres.
Still delivering great numbers in its 14th week on release, the awards contender The Descendants dropped just 16.2% to #11 and made $2.9 million over the weekend ($3.5 million over four days). By the end of Monday, its total gross came in at $75.6 million making it the 6th-biggest movie ever to miss the Top 5 throughout its entire run. The remainder of its box-office run will depend on its performance at the Academy Awards ceremony next weekend where it is unlikely to win the big prize, but could take home Oscars for Clooney as Best Actor and for Payne’s adapted screenplay. Either way, it probably won’t have much of a long life after the next weekend, but its performance is already great given the low-key nature of the film. It will end up with $86 million in the bank, probably just barely missing the top spot of the list of movies that never made it into the Top 5. Still, the movie is a great showcase of Clooney’s drawing power in acclaimed vehicles and Payne’s ability to make commercially successful small dramas.
Speaking of awards contenders, the prime candidate to win Best Picture, The Artist, made it back into the Top 12. The acclaimed silent black/white film actually increased 7.8% over its previous frame, even though it didn’t add any theatres. It took in $2.4 million over three days and $3 million over four, putting its running total at $28.1 million. The film keeps climbing the list of top-grossing films that have never made the Top 10 (though this will likely change after it wins Best Picture next weekend). By the end of its run I expect it to make around $40-50 million which is great for this kind of film, even though it doesn’t seem much for a Best Picture winner.