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Box office: 'The Vow' leads strong weekend with $41.7 million [Updated]

February 12, 2012 |  9:32 am

The Vow was the No 1 film at the box office this weekend
Moviegoers fell head over heels for "The Vow" this weekend, as the romantic drama posted the biggest opening of the year.

It was a record-breaking non-holiday weekend at the box office, as four films each debuted with well over $20 million in domestic ticket sales. "The Vow," starring Channing Tatum and Rachel McAdams, collected an impressive $41.7 million, according to an estimate from distributor Sony Pictures. The action thriller "Safe House" also beat expectations, starting off with a strong $39.3 million. The sequel "Journey 2: The Mysterious Island" also far exceeded industry projections, grossing $27.6 million, while a 3-D re-release of "Star Wars: Episode I -- The Phantom Menace" took in a respectable $23 million.

As a result of the robust ticket sales, weekend receipts were up 30% compared to the same period in 2011.

"The Vow" opened well above Tatum's last romantic picture, "Dear John," a movie based on a novel by Nicholas Sparks that debuted with $30.5 million around Valentine's Day in 2010. That picture, also from Screen Gems, was previously the film label's biggest opening ever -- a record "The Vow" shattered this weekend.

Financed by Spyglass Entertainment and Screen Gems for about $30 million, "The Vow" is about a woman trying to fall in love with her husband again after suffering amnesia due to a car crash. Audiences liked it, giving it an average grade of B, according to market research firm CinemaScore. (Moviegoers responded more positively to "Safe House" and the 3-D "Journey 2," which each earned an  A-.)

The movie appealed mostly to women, as an overwhelming 72% of the audience was female.  It helps that one of the film's stars is a heartthrob;  young women have been buzzing about Tatum online for weeks.

"Safe House" marks the second-highest opening ever for star Denzel Washington, behind his 2007 hit "American Gangster," which launched with $43.6 million. In the 57-year-old's latest film, which also stars Ryan Reynolds, Washington plays a rebellious CIA agent who heads to South Africa on a mission. The movie attracted a slightly older crowd, 62% of whom were over the age of 30. Also, 38% of those who saw it were black and 31% were white.

Universal Pictures and Relativity Media spent around $85 million to produce "Safe House," and they could rake in even more overseas than in the U.S and Canada. Internationally, "Safe House"  debuted with $10.2 million from 25 foreign countries this weekend. It has yet to open in a number of major markets abroad, including France, Germany and Japan.

A sequel to 2008's "Journey to the Center of the Earth," the second "Journey" film was financed by Warner Bros.' New Line division for about $79 million. The original debuted with $21 million and ultimately brought in about $100 domestically and $140 million overseas.

In "Journey 2," Dwayne Johnson replaced actor Brendan Fraser as the franchise's lead star. (Fraser dropped out of the sequel in 2010 because it was not being directed by the filmmaker behind the original, Eric Brevig.) Apparently, that was good for New Line, as 45% of those who saw the film this weekend said Johnson was the No. 1 reason they chose to attend. 

The movie -- about a stepfather (Johnson) who goes on an adventure to try to find a secret island with his son ("The Hunger Games" star Josh Hutcherson) -- did well on 3-D screens. Of those who saw the picture, 74% opted to do so in 3-D.

It was a good weekend for 3-D films, as audiences proved they're still willing to shell out a few extra bucks to see movies in the pricier format. 20th Century Fox and Lucasfilm's updated version of "Star Wars: Episode I" is the latest 3-D re-release to fare well at the box office, following the success Walt Disney Studios had recently reissuing two of its classic animated titles in 3-D. 

Filmmaker George Lucas has converted six "Star Wars" films in 3-D and hopes to release them in chronological order, though Fox said on Sunday that no release plans for the next installment were official yet.

[Updated 12:24 p.m., Feb. 12: Of the four films that debuted this weekend domestically, "Journey 2" is doing the most robust business overseas. The film has been playing internationally for about a month, and this weekend collected $25.5 million, bringing its tally abroad to $74.7 million. This weekend, the film opened in China and performed well there, grossing an estimated $9.5 million.

Meanwhile, "Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows" this weekend surpassed the original film's ultimate international gross. The original brought in $315 million overseas, while the sequel has now raked in $320 million abroad. The film has yet to conclude its international run, as it still has to open in Japan.

Here are the top 10 movies at the domestic box office this weekend, with international grosses when available, according to studio estimates and Hollywood.com:
1. "The Vow" (Sony/Spyglass): Opened to $41.7 million. $9.7 million overseas in 20 foreign markets.
2. "Safe House" (Universal/Relativity): Opened to $39.3 million. $10.2 million overseas in 25 foreign markets.
3. "Journey 2: The Mysterious Island" (Warner Bros.): Opened to $27.6 million. $25.5 million overseas in 29 foreign markets. International total: $74.7 million.
4. "Star Wars: Episode 1 - The Phantom Menace" (Fox/Lucasfilm): Opened to $23 million. $20.5 million overseas in 87 foreign markets.
5. "Chronicle" (Fox): $12.3 million on its second weekend, down 44%. $6.1 million overseas in 35 foreign markets. Domestic total: $40.2 million. International total: $23.4 million.
6. "The Woman in Black" (CBS Films): $10.3 million on its second weekend, down 51%. Domestic total: $35.5 million.
7. "The Grey" (Open Road): $5.1 million on its third weekend, down 45%. Domestic total: $42.8 million.
8. "Big Miracle" (Universal): $3.9 million on its second weekend, down, 50%. $400,000 overseas in four foreign markets. Domestic total: $13.2 million. International total: $750,000.
9. "The Descendants" (Fox Searchlight): $3.5 million on its 13th weekend, down 23%. $7.8 million overseas in 43 foreign markets. Domestic total: $70.7 million. International total: $57.1 million.
10. "Underworld: Awakening" (Sony/Lakeshore): $2.5 million on its fourth weekend, down 55%. $8.7 million overseas in 52 foreign markets. Domestic total: $58.9 million. International total: $71.1 million.]

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Movie Projector: 'The Vow' to sweep audiences off their feet

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

'The Vow' premiere: Making Channing Tatum, Rachel McAdams cry

-- Amy Kaufman

twitter.com/AmyKinLA

Photo: Channing Tatum and Rachel McAdams star in "The Vow." Credit: Sony Pictures

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