Vow, Safe House on fire at the box office
By John Hamann
February 12, 2012
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.