Weekend Wrap-Up
Vow, Safe House on fire at the box office
By John Hamann
February 12, 2012

Stop him! He's trying to escape!

Wow. The box office over the February 10th - 12th weekend has everything your inner box office geek needs – a very close race to number one, star power, a bizarre sequel, a 3D re-release, and huge, out-of-nowhere numbers. At one point I thought it might be a quiet weekend, as openers included The Vow, a weeper that tries to bring some life to the wooden Channing Tatum, Safe House, a Denzel Washington/Ryan Reynolds combo, Journey 2, the sequel to Journey to the Center of the Earth with The Rock replacing Brendan Fraser, and the re-release of Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace in 3D, which had Papa George hoping widespread amnesia had circled the globe. We end up with TWO of the bigger openings in February history, and a stellar top 12 total for the weekend – all this without Valentine's Day falling on the weekend.

It was a close race to number one, and with a strange group of openers taking the stage, it was tough to pick which two might be vying for the top spot. The Vow was the easy money pick for number one, due to the onset of Valentine's Day, but which of the other three could share the title? 3D re-releases have been money for Disney, with The Lion King grabbing $30 million over its opening frame and Beauty and the Beast finding $18 million. Would The Phantom Menace in 3D reunite the legions of Star Wars fans? Alternately, Safe House has Denzel Washington and Ryan Reynolds, two stars who can draw audiences. Denzel's last four wide release films have had average openings of $31 million, and Reynolds' average for his last four has reached $46.3 million. Finally, we had the sequel to Journey to the Center of the Earth, thankfully swapping out Brendan Fraser for The Rock, whose last film is Fast Five, which opened to $86 million.

Our number one film of the weekend is The Vow, starring Rachel McAdams and Channing Tatum. The romance was expected by tracking to earn $30 million or less, but the weekend estimate came in much closer to BOP's Reagen Sulewski's prediction of $35.2 million, totaling a spectacular $41.7 million from 2,958 venues. It had a venue average of $14,097, and a weekend multiplier (weekend gross divided by Friday gross) of 2.7 – an expected number due to the fact that Valentine's Day did not fall on the weekend.

Exhibitors will get another huge day on Tuesday, where the Hallmark Holiday actually falls. Dear John, the last Valentine's Day driven flick from Screen Gems, earned $2.3 million MORE on its second Sunday (Valentine's Day) than it did over its opening weekend. Dear John, which opened to $30 million over the same weekend in 2010 (and is obviously the model for The Vow), had a first weekend multiplier of 2.2, indicating it was a date movie Friday and Saturday, followed by a huge drop off on Sunday. It then had a huge turnaround the following weekend thanks to Valentine's. Dear John had a second weekend multiplier of 3.9 because its biggest day of the weekend fell on that Sunday.

Dear John eventually suffered at the box office because it was not a very good movie, and The Vow will likely suffer the same fate. Only 24 reviewers out of a possible 86 at RottenTomatoes liked the Screen Gems release, giving The Vow a rotten rating of only 28%, with the site's Top Critics liking it even less at 23%. Critics don't like Tatum, with one saying the actor looks confused in most scenes and one calling him “a very handsome steak”. Anyone could have starred in The Vow, but choosing Tatum may not have been all bad from a ticket sales perspective, given his appearance in Dear John and the $30 million worth of tickets sold the over opening weekend for that movie. Tatum needed a hit with The Vow, as Haywire, The Eagle and The Dilemma – his last three films since Dear John – have averaged a domestic gross less than $30 million. Rachel McAdams, on the other hand, had a great 2011, appearing in the Sherlock Holmes sequel, which has grossed $185 million so far, and Woody Allen's Midnight In Paris, which grossed $56.5 million at the domestic box office. Her worldwide grosses for 2011 crossed the $650 million mark.

With The Vow, Screen Gems followed the same model they used on Dear John. Spend about $30 million making a bad film with two young stars (check). Drop it into the weekend prior to Valentine's Day, so not only will it work the weekend before, it will also have a huge day on the 14th (check). Roll it out to the masses on the heels of a wildly popular box office period (Dear John was the first number one after Avatar ruled), thus ensuring the trailer and in-theatre advertising is seen by as many as possible (check). Let the money roll in (big check). The Vow opened larger than Dear John, and should see a similar trajectory as it rolls through the month of February. Dear John finished with $80 million at the domestic box office, and The Vow should finish closer to $100 million, which would put it in the top ten biggest romantic dramas of all time (not adjusted for inflation of course). Screen Gems knows how to pull a rabbit out of their hat, that's for sure.

If The Vow was for the girls, it would seem that couples split down the middle when entering the multiplex this weekend, as the boys went to Safe House, the new thriller starring Denzel and Ryan Reynolds. With what has to be the safest movie star at the box office right now, along with a big up and comer in Reynolds, Safe House cracked the bank this weekend, earning $39.3 million from 3,119 venues. It had a venue average of $12,610. Tracking had Safe House opening in the lower $20 millions, so the grosses for both Safe House and The Vow are leaving some mud on the face of tracking companies this weekend.

Why did Safe House work so well? The answer is simple: Denzel Washington. This column hits this fact every time Washington opens a movie. Here is a guy who has only one really big opening – American Gangster at $43.6 million and has had only three films since 1993 gross more than $100 million at the domestic box office, but still manages to be the most reliable guy in Hollywood. Since 1998, Washington has had only two films open to less than $10 million (The Hurricane opened in limited release, but did $10 million in weekend three). Those two films are The Great Debaters, which cost $15 million and earned $30 million; and Antwone Fisher, which cost $12.5 million to make and earned $21 million. In other words, even his flops break even. Usually, Washington's films open between $20 and $25 million, earn between $85 and $100 million at the domestic box office, and then double that total overseas. With Safe House, Washington needed a bigger opening weekend as this one cost $85 million to make. Bring on Ryan Reynolds, and we have a similar pairing to what Washington had in Unstoppable, where he co-starred with up-and-comer Chris Pine, who was coming off the big Star Trek reboot. Unstoppable cost $95 million to make, earned $81.5 million domestically, and $170 million worldwide. Safe House should be Washington's fourth $100 million domestic earner, as while reviews weren't great, the Cinemascore was, coming in at an A-. Safe House is proof that Valentine's Day can be counter-programmed.

Journey 2: Thy Mysterious Island is third this weekend, as The Rock manages to breathe life into a questionable franchise. Journey 2 managed to exceed the gross that the Brendan Fraser version of Journey to Center of the Earth earned in 2008 (when 3D was still a fairly new concept). The 3D sequel took in $27.6 million this weekend from 3,470 venues, and had a venue average of $7,943. It also had a remarkably strong Friday-to-Sunday multiplier of 4.11, so it clearly became the choice for families as the weekend progressed. Because it was competing with The Phantom Menace for 3D screens, Journey 2 had a lot going against it, but the solid casting of The Rock (aka Dwayne Johnson) and Michael Caine put this one back into the money. Journey 2 cost about $80 million to make - $35 million more than the original - but with this opening, along with $40 million in overseas grosses already counted, this Warner Bros. release will make out just fine.

Star Wars: The Phantom Menace is back, this time in 3D, and will likely pay for any losses George Lucas took with Red Tails. Like The Lion King and Beauty and the Beast polishes, The Phantom Menace also played to its legions of fans, taking in an extremely solid $23 million this weekend. Out to only 2,655 venues, the 3D conversion earned an average of $8,663. This re-release is not all that un-similar to the re-release of A New Hope back in January 1997, where the film was spruced up and earned $36 million. It stayed on top for three consecutive weekends in 1997, and brought in more than $120 million. Thankfully, the same thing won't happen here.

Fifth spot goes to last weekend's winner Chronicle (that's what happens when four big films all overperform). After earning $22 million in its debut last weekend, Chronicle gets knocked back down to size this weekend, as it can only manage a weekend gross of $12.3 million. That gives the Fox release a drop of 44% compared to last weekend, but let's remember that the budget here is only $12 million, which means Fox has likely seen a profit already. Chronicle will likely see $60 million before all is said and done, and will probably see big business on home video. Its current total is $40.2 million.

Sixth is Daniel Radcliffe and The Woman in Black, last weekend's number two film at the box office. Like Chronicle, this one also got knocked down this weekend, as it earned $10.3 million and dropped 51% compared to last weekend. For CBS Films, The Woman in Black is going to be an even better investment than Fox had with Chronicle. While Woman cost $17 million to make, CBS Films picked up the domestic rights for only $3 million and will likely earn just short of 20 times that amount. So far, the spooker has earned $35.4 million.

The Grey lands in seventh, as the Liam Neeson flick fails to find any traction. The Grey earned $5.1 million in its third weekend, and was off a hefty 45% compared to the previous frame, where it fell 53%. While no hit, Open Road is not going to eat it on this one, as the upstart spent only $8 million acquiring domestic rights to a film that has so far grossed $42.8 million. Had the product released in the weekend after The Grey hit screens not been so powerful, I think this one would have lasted somewhat longer.

Eighth place goes to Big Miracle, the whale rescue movie that features Drew Barrymore and John Krasinski and is in its second weekend at the box office. The family pleaser earned $3.9 million and was off a pretty steep 50%, showing that the more exciting family fare that entered the market this weekend had an impact. So far, Big Miracle has earned $13.2 million at the box office.

The Decendants holds on to a top ten spot as it comes up in ninth place. The George Clooney drama earned $3.5 million and dropped 23%, and also managed to pass newer films like Underworld: Awakening, One For the Money, and Red Tails. The Alexander Payne release has now earned $70.7 million.

Tenth is Underworld: Awakenings, as the Kate Beckinsale release falls from fifth last weekend. The fourth film of the series earned $2.5 million and dropped 55%. The $70 million release has earned $58.9 million domestically, and $54 million overseas.

Overall, the box office is super hot. The top 12 films managed to earn a combined $173.8 million, a number usually reserved for the summer months. A year ago, the top 12 brought in $134.8 million. Next weekend brings a couple of interesting films to theaters - This Means War with Reese Witherspoon, Chris Pine and Tom Hardy, and Nic Cage returning as Ghost Rider in Spirit of Vengeance.