Sunday, February 12, 2012

Weekend Report: Moviegoers Say “I Do” to ‘The Vow,’ Check In to ‘Safe House’

With four movies opening to over $20 million for only the second time in history, it was a very good weekend to be in the movie business. The Vow wound up in first with an excellent $41.7 million, though Safe House wasn't far behind in second. Journey 2: The Mysterious Island also drastically outperformed expectations, and Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace in 3D reaffirmed the enduring popularity of the Star Wars franchise. Overall box office is at $188.7 million with 43 titles reporting, which is behind Valentine's Day Weekend 2010 ($204.7 million) and about on par with Valentine's Day 2009 ($188.9 million).

The Vow's estimated $41.7 million topped Dear John's $30.5 million for best opening ever from a Sony/Screen Gems release. It was also the sixth-highest debut ever in February, and third-highest for a romance or romantic comedy behind Valentine's Day ($56.3 million) and Hitch ($43.1 million). The audience was 72 percent women and 55 percent under the age of 25, and there is currently no CinemaScore available.

Combining a "based on a true story" premise with the presence of Channing Tatum (Dear John) and Rachel McAdams (The Notebook) clearly made The Vow a must-see for young women this weekend. Potentially adding to the grosses is the fact that there really hasn't been a straightforward romance since last August's One Day, meaning there was pent-up demand among date night audiences. Timing the release around Valentine's Day certainly didn't hurt either. The Vow's performance seems to reaffirm the notion that making movies geared towards women can be a low-cost (in this case, $30 million) and high-reward proposition.

Safe House opened in second with an estimated $39.3 million. That's Denzel Washington's second-highest debut ever behind American Gangster's $43.6 million, and it crushed recent Denzel movies Unstoppable ($22.7 million) and The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 ($23.4 million). The opening was also a bit of a coup for Ryan Reynolds, who got beat up on pretty good last Summer following disappointing performances from Green Lantern ($116.6 million) and The Change-Up ($37.1 million).

Credit must be given to Universal for delivering a knock-out marketing effort for Safe House. Advertisements clearly positioned Denzel's character as the sort of clever, enigmatic "bad guy" that audiences love to root for. This character was incorporated in to a Bourne-esque plot surrounding an agent gone rogue, and there even appeared to be a dash of Training Day (Denzel vs. rookie) worked in as well. All of this was set to Kanye West & Jay-Z's "No Church in the Wild" (off the Watch the Throne collaboration), which ratcheted up the stakes with grandiose beats and lyrical snippets like "make it out alive."

Universal is reporting that the audience was evenly split between men and women, and 62 percent were 30 years of age or older. Also, the ethnic breakdown was 38 percent African American, 31 percent Caucasian, and 23 percent Hispanic.

Perhaps the biggest surprise this weekend was Journey 2's impressive $27.55 million debut. That's a notable improvement over 2008's Journey to the Center of the Earth ($21.02 million), which was unexpected for a number of reasons. The first Journey was released when the modern wave of 3D was still in its infancy, which provided the movie with a bit of novelty value. Also, it was loosely based on a legitimately popular Jules Verne novel, whereas The Mysterious Island is a far more obscure text. Finally, children's sequels that aren't closely timed (within two years or so) rarely out-gross their predecessors.

It seems like the only explanation for Journey 2's success is the addition of The Rock, who seems like a bona fide movie star as of late. He helped Fast Five reach new heights for that series last year and has just scored a strong opening with Journey 2; it will be interesting to see if he can continue this streak with G.I. Joe: Retaliation this Summer.

Journey 2's audience was split evenly between men and women, and it skewed younger (54 percent under the age of 25). The movie received a solid "A-" CinemaScore, which could portend a healthy run in the coming weeks. 3D showings took place in 2,750 locations and accounted for 74 percent of ticket sales, while IMAX (most or all of which was in 3D) contributed $3.8 million (14 percent).

Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace had to settle for fourth place, though it still tallied a solid $23 million. That's right in between The Lion King ($30.2 million) and Beauty and the Beast ($17.8 million) among recent 3D re-releases. The movie did sell fewer tickets than any of the 1997 Star Wars re-releases, though that was to be expected given its middling reputation and wide home viewing availability. The audience was 60 percent male and 51 percent were 25 years of age and older, and 99 percent of ticket sales were for 3D presentations.

Thanks to the re-release, The Phantom Menace moved up from seventh to fifth place on the all-time chart with a $454.1 million total. By next weekend, it should move past the original Star Wars's $461 million to take fourth place and first among all Star Wars movies

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