As Hollywood's A-listers prepare for the Academy Awards on Sunday, it was the Navy SEAL stars of the movie "Act of Valor" who dominated the box office.
The intense action movie opened to a solid $24.7 million, according to an estimate from distributor Relativity Media, proving by far the most popular choice for audiences.
"Good Deeds," the latest movie from writer/director Tyler Perry, opened to $16 million. It's the second-smallest opening ever for the prolific filmmaker and actor, ahead of only 2007's "Daddy's Little Girls."
"Wanderlust," a new Judd Apatow-produced comedy starring Jennifer Aniston and Paul Rudd, and the thriller "Gone" starring Amanda Seyfried were both flops, opening to just $6.6 million and $5 million, respectively.
"Act of Valor," which has won plaudits for its ultra-realistic action sequences that feature the SEAL stars in training exercises, was a big bet for Relativity. The financially struggling independent studio topped other bidders by paying $13.5 million for rights to the movie produced by production company Bandito Brothers. It also committed tens of millions of dollars to an extensive marketing campaign that included four ads in and around the Super Bowl and online material targeting video game players.
But the investment appears to be paying off, as box-office receipts came in at the high end of pre-release expectations. Just as important, audiences loved the film, giving it an average grade of A, according to market research firm CinemaScore. That was not only true for men, who made up 71% of the audiences, but women. Strong word-of-mouth could help "Act of Valor"
Despite the softer-than-usual opening for "Good Deeds," distributor Lionsgate is optimistic the film will ultimately end up close to the average total gross for Perry's movies, about $50 million. The studio's executive vice president of distribution, David Spitz, noted that a higher-than-average Friday-to-Saturday box-office increase of 25%, plus an A CinemaScore, indicate that Perry's mostly female and African American fan base loved the movie.
The same can't be said for "Wanderlust," which had the second-lowest opening ever for a movie produced by comedy guru Apatow, ahead of the 2007 music parody "Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story." The film about an uptight Manhattan couple who move to a commune got a CinemaScore of B-. It was financed by Universal Pictures and a fund previously managed by Relativity for around $35 million.
The weak opening for "Gone" marks the second time in a row that a film released by Summit Entertainment has opened behind one from the studio that bought it in January, Lionsgate. Audiences didn't like the low-budget film, for which Summit acquired domestic distribution rights from financier Lakeshore Entertainment, giving it a CinemaScore of just C+ from its mostly female audience.
Also notable at this weekend's box office: The Channing Tatum-Rachel McAdams romantic drama "The Vow" took in $10 million and brought its total gross to more than $100 million, become the first movie released by Sony Pictures' Screen Gems genre label to do so.
The Denzel Washington-Ryan Reynolds thriller "Safe House," which also opened Feb. 10, is right behind at $98.1 million.
[Updated, 11:18 A.M., Feb. 26: It was a third movie that opened that weekend, "Journey 2: The Mysterious Island," which had the strongest performance. With ticket sales down only 32% compared with last weekend, it grossed $13.5 million, slightly more than "Safe House" or "The Vow." Its domestic total is now $76.7 million, while a strong overseas performance has helped it to a worldwide total of more than $235 million.
Liam Neeson thriller "The Grey" has become the first breakout hit from new studio Open Road Films, co-owned by theater chains AMC and Regal, surpassing $50 million this weekend.
Here are the top 10 movies at the domestic office, with international results when available, according to studio estimates: