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Box office: 'Safe House' surprises, 'Ghost Rider' disappoints

Safe House was the No 1 film at the box office this weekend
This post has been updated. See the note below for details.

"Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance" was supposed to cruise to the top of the box office this weekend, but the Nicolas Cage action film flamed out at the multiplex.

Instead, it was Denzel Washington's "Safe House" that took No. 1, rising to the prime spot after debuting in the runner-up position the previous weekend. The action thriller grossed an impressive $28.4 million over the four-day Presidents Day holiday, bringing its 11-day total to $82.6 million, according to an estimate from distributor Universal Pictures.

Moviegoers also didn't forget about "The Vow," the romantic tear-jerker that won the box-office battle the previous weekend. The film about a woman who suffers amnesia and cannot remember her husband collected an additional $26.6 million. After just over two weeks in theaters, the modestly budgeted picture starring Channing Tatum and Rachel McAdams has already collected a strong $88.5 million.

The 3-D "Ghost Rider" sequel, as well as two other new films, did not have as much luck at the box office over the holiday weekend. Cage's latest film was expected to debut with at least $30 million, but instead started off with a modest $25.7 million. The romantic comedy action film "This Means War" opened to a moderate $20.4 million, while the Japanese anime production "The Secret World of Arrietty" brought in a so-so $8.1 million.

The original "Ghost Rider" had a far more robust opening back on Presidents Day weekend in 2007, when the film started off with $52 million. Ultimately, the movie made $115.8 domestically and about that much overseas as well. The sequel, however, was made for about $30 million less than the original. "Spirit of Vengeance" was funded by Sony and production and financing company Hyde Park Entertainment for about $80 million, said one person close to the project who was not authorized to speak about it publicly. A Sony spokesperson insisted the actual cost was $57 million.

It now seems unlikely that critically panned sequel will reach the same box-office heights, especially because those who saw the film this weekend didn't like it, assigning it an average grade of C+, according to market research firm CinemaScore. The film attracted a largely male crowd, as 61% of the audience were men; roughly 48% was under the age of 25. 

Cage has had a mixed track record at the box office in recent years. The original "Ghost Rider" was one of his few hits, along with the 2007 sequel "National Treasure: Book of Secrets," which grossed about $350 million worldwide. But the 48-year-old's last three films, "Drive Angry," "Season of the Witch" and "The Sorcerer's Apprentice," were all huge flops.

"This Means War," starring Reese Witherspoon, Chris Pine and Tom Hardy, was received more positively by audiences. Those who saw the film about two CIA agents fighting for the affection of the same woman gave it an average grade of A-. The film attracted a 65% female audience, indicating its gross was likely negatively affected by competition from "The Vow," which appealed to the same demographic. 

Only days before its release, 20th Century Fox pushed the official release date for "This Means War" from Valentine's Day on Feb. 14 to Feb. 17. Though the studio said the move was made in an effort to spread positive buzz about the film, it also seemed like a tactic to give the movie more of a fighting chance against "The Vow."

Directed by "Terminator: Salvation" filmmaker McG, the movie was financed by Fox and partner Dune Entertainment for about $65 million.

Although "The Secret World of Arrietty" failed to crack the $10-million mark at the box office this weekend, the film still had the biggest opening of any of the anime films Walt Disney Studios has released in the U.S. "Ponyo," directed by Hayao Miyazaki -- who co-wrote "Arrietty" -- debuted with $3.6 million in 2009 and collected $15.1 million by the end of its run.

The movie, about little people who live under the floorboards of a house, was a huge hit overseas when it was released internationally in 2010. That year, it became the top-grossing movie in Japan and made a total of $126 million abroad. The new version, which features the voices of English-speaking actors such as Amy Poehler and Will Arnett, was well-liked by Americans, who gave it an A- CinemaScore this weekend.

The film came to America largely due to John Lasseter, the chief of Pixar Animation Studio who also oversees Disney Animation and has had a longtime relationship with Miyazaki.

[Updated, 11:45 a.m. Feb. 20: "Journey 2: The Mysterious Island" maintained a solid hold at the box office this weekend, as its ticket sales fell only 27% to $26.4 million. While the film debuted domestically last weekend, it has been playing for about a month overseas, and has already collected $130 million internationally. "Journey to the Center of the Earth," released in 2008, collected about $140 million abroad.

Here are the top 10 movies in the U.S. and Canada, based on their four-day grosses. Percentage changes are based on three-day grosses. International grosses are through Sunday only.

1. "Safe House" (Universal/Relativity): $28.4 million on its second weekend, down 41%. $6 million overseas in 35 foreign markets. Domestic total: $82.6 million. International total: $19.6 million.

2. "The Vow" (Sony/Spyglass): $26.6 million on its second weekend, down 44%. $6.8 million overseas in 24 foreign markets. Domestic total: $88.5 million. International total: $22.8 million.

3. "Journey 2: The Mysterious Island" (Warner Bros.): $26.4 million on its second weekend, down 27%. $27.5 million overseas in 43 foreign markets. Domestic total: $59.5 million. International total: $130 million.

4. "Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance" (Sony/Hyde Park): Opened to $25.7 million.

5. "This Means War" (Fox/Dune): Opened to $20.4 million. $11 million overseas in 16 foreign markets. Domestic total: $22 million.

6. "Star Wars: Episode 1 - The Phantom Menace" (Fox/Lucasfilm): $10.2 million on its second weekend, down 64%. $10 million overseas in 63 foreign markets. Domestic total: $36 million. International total: $37.1 million.

7. "Chronicle" (Fox): $9.2 million on its third weekend, down 37%. $3.8 million overseas in 41 foreign markets. Domestic total: $52.7 million. International total: $30.6 million.

8. "The Secret World of Arrietty" (Disney): Opened to $8.1 million.

9. "The Woman in Black" (CBS Films): $7.8 million on its third weekend, down 34%. Domestic total: $45.3 million.

10. "The Grey" (Open Road): $3.8 million on its fourth weekend, down 38%. Domestic total: $48.7 million.]

RELATED:

Movie Projector: 'Ghost Rider' sequel to scorch competition

'Safe House': Director Daniel Espinosa doesn't take safe route

Would you help 'The Vow's' Channing Tatum pick his next film?

--Amy Kaufman

twitter.com/AmyKinLA

Photo: Denzel Washington, stars in "Safe House." Credit: Universal Pictures

 
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