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'Shutter Island' shows the power of isolation

February 21, 2010 | 12:51 pm

Sh When Paramount decided to move "Shutter Island" from October to February, some wondered if the studio had a bigger headache on its hands than the migraines felt by Leonardo DiCaprio's character in the film. It didn't help that the pulp-ish trailer elicited some eyebrow-raising among pundits accustomed to more upscale fare from DiCaprio and Martin Scorsese.

But like a short-track speed skater at the Winter Olympics, the studio showed that when it came to releasing a movie, it wasn't how you started but how you finished. The postponement to a date that was relatively open -- and got more open after Lionsgate moved "From Paris With Love" -- proved a prescient move. 

Most box-office experts had estimated that a $35-million opening would be the benchmark for success. As it was, the $40-million figure marked the biggest opening for either Scorsese or DiCaprio, the latter of whom had previously broken the $30-million mark only once, with the conman dramedy "Catch Me If You Can" seven years ago. (Perhaps also propitiously, Paramount delayed the release to a time on the calendar when much of the country was still plunged in the stormy weather seen in the film.)

Although "Shutter Island" didn't come close to the $56.4 million that "Valentine's Day" earned over three days last weekend, it did rival the $41 million of "Tyler Perry's Madea Goes to Jail" (2009) for the second-biggest February opening in three years -- and for an R-rated film, no less. (Paramount also earned $9.1 million internationally from an assortment of global territories, including Spain, Russia and the Netherlands.)

Paramount touted its ability to attract a female audience that doesn't typically come out to genre films (though does come out more often than it used to). Indeed, moviegoers were split almost evenly between men and women, as the profile of DiCaprio helped boost the "Shutter Island" numbers among women. The Scorsese pedigree was also likely part of the reason older viewers came out to the thriller in droves, as the numbers were also evenly split between filmgoers older and younger than 25.

But although the film's opening will likely boost the argument that genre movies increasingly appeal to both genders and a range of ages, it might just come down to the calendar.

"The Departed," the blockbuster that marked Scorsese and DiCaprio's most fruitful collaboration, earned only $26 million in its opening weekend, but it was up against two releases aimed at men, the Dane Cook comedy "Employee of the Month" and the reboot of "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre." Neither of those films broke any box-office records, but they did combine to take in nearly $30 million that weekend.

This weekend, on the other hand, there were almost no movies aimed at a young male audience -- the only one playing widely (besides "Avatar") was "The Wolfman," the disappointing revival of the classic monster movie, which didn't even make it to the $10-million mark. (Of course, one could argue that "Shutter Island" not only benefited from "Wolfman's" weak opening but also contributed to it.) And even women didn't turn out in such high numbers to see their preferred vehicle of last weekend, "Valentine's Day," as the film dropped 69%.

"Shutter Island" will face some competition next weekend from Kevin Smith's male-oriented comedy "Cop Out." But with women still coming -- and Tim Burton's "Alice in Wonderland" not opening for another weekend -- expect another strong showing from Scorsese et al. Sometimes it pays to be an island.

Here are the top 10 movies at the domestic box office, according to studio estimates and Hollywood.com:

1. "Shutter Island" (Paramount): Opened to $40.2 million domestically and just over $9 million internationally from a smattering of foreign territories over the weekend.

2. "Valentine's Day" (Warner Bros./New Line): Grossed $17.2 million in its second weekend of release with a drop of 69% from last weekend's holiday opening. Domestic total: $88 million.

3. "Avatar" (Fox/Dune/Ingenious): $16.1 million in its 10th week of a release as the James Cameron movie hits $688 million domestically. A $51-million gross in foreign territories puts its international box office at $1.78 billion.

4. "Percy Jackson and the Olympians" (Fox/Dune/Ingenious): Grossed $15.3 million for a drop of 51% in its second weekend of release. The film earned $23 million overseas for a domestic total of $58.8 million and a foreign total of $67.8 million.

5. "The Wolfman" (Universal/Relativity): $9.8-million gross and a 69% drop, resulting in a domestic total that reaches $50.3 million for a production that cost more than $100 million.

6. "Dear John" (Sony/Relativity): $7.7 million in its third weekend of release for a drop of 52%. Domestic total: $66.3 million.

7. "The Tooth Fairy" (Fox/Walden): $4.5 million as it enters its second month of release. Domestic total: $49.8 million.

8. "Crazy Heart" (Fox Searchlight): $2.9 million in its 10th weekend. Domestic total: $21.5 million.

9. "From Paris With Love" (Lionsgate/Europa): $2.5 million in its third weekend, a 54% drop from an under-performing second weekend. Domestic total: $21.2 million.

10. "Edge of Darkness" (Warner Bros./GK Films): $2.2 million in its fourth weekend, down 54%. Domestic total: $40.3 million.

-- Steven Zeitchik

Photo: Leonardo DiCaprio, left, and Mark Ruffalo in "Shutter Island." Credit: Paramount Pictures

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