Adam Sandler and Jennifer Aniston face off against Justin Bieber over Valentine’s Day weekend

By Scott Mendelson It was a close call this weekend, and the rankings may end up being switched when the finals come in. But for the moment, the Adam Sandler/Jennifer Aniston romantic comedy Just Go With It has topped the charts with $31 million. Sandler scored previously on this weekend in 1998 with The Wedding Singer (which was a surprise break-out hit with $18 million) and in 2004 with 50 First Dates (which scored $39 million by re-uniting Wedding Singer co-stars Sandler and Drew Barrymore). This is actually one of the very lowest opening weekends for a broad male-driven farce for Mr. Sandler, which shows just what a powerhouse opener he has been since his 1998 mainstream break-out. For thirteen years, Adam Sandler has been the most consistent opener in the business, bar none. His movies may often be terrible, and his fans seem to sniff out and avoid his quality fare as a matter of principle, but Sandler is without question the biggest comedy star of his generation and the biggest movie star to emerge from Saturday Night Live.

For Jennifer Aniston, this is her fourth-biggest opening weekend, and (unfortunate?) proof that she still requires a strong male co-star to help pull the weight with her mainstream romantic vehicles. The lower opening seems to imply that either moviegoers were indeed turned off by the terrible reviews (which is generally not a factor for Sandler or Aniston), or perhaps the female audiences were a little turned off by the misogynistic ad campaign that spent most of the time selling the physical attributes of co-star Brooklyn Decker. The film still showed an impressive 3x weekend multiplier, which is rare in this day and age. The picture scored an ‘A-‘ from Cinemascore and played 58% female and 60% over-25. Sandler’s pictures usually have a big second weekend drop, and then play out with small drops over the next month as they become the second-choice of general moviegoers.

Coming in at a close second place was the $30 million debut of Justin Bieber: Never Say Never, which attempted to equal the runaway success of Miley Cyrus/Hanna Montana: Best of Both Worlds over Super Bowl 2008. It more-or-less did. The Miley Cryus concert film took in $31 million, but on just 685 screens (a record $45,000 per-screen average for a film over 600 screens). Considering that the concert in question was selling out instantly, with tickets scalping for over $1,000, Disney putting out a film version of said concert almost qualified as a mitzvah. This Paramount release was more a general cash-grab. Still, the $13 million picture opened far larger than the $12.5 million debut of Jonas Brothers: The 3D Concert Experience two years ago. The film scored an A+ from CinemaScore, played 85% female and 67% under-25. So if you were looking for a place to pick up a young, single woman… Prurient humor aside, the film grossed a whopping 84% of its business from its 3D venues. Point being, this may be a one-and-done (although the 2.4x weekend multplier was frankly higher than expected, but it did its job.

Disney (through its reincarcerated Touchtone label) scored an animation win this weekend with Gnomeo and Juliet, which took in a surprising $25 million. The film seemed like a cast-off until the last month or so, when Disney decided to spend the money to take advantage of the barren kids marketplace. Sad to say, but this is a top-level opening for ‘B-level’ Disney cartoons. I say ‘sad to say’ because Gnomeo and Juliet just topped the opening weekend of Meet the Robinsons, which came out in March of 2007 (if you don’t know why that saddens me, you haven’t been reading me for very long). Anyway, the film posted the biggest animated opening for February (topping the $16 million opening of Coraline, another animated masterpiece). The film played 59% female, 36% 2-11, and 36% 26-49. The last wide-opener of the weekend was The Eagle, which debuted with just $8.5 million. The Roman adventure picture, which starred Channing Tatum and Jamie Bell, suffered from a lack of marketing, the lack of star-power, and a PG-13, which alerted moviegoers that most of the battle scenes were going to feel edited within an inch of their lives. While it was not a mainstream film, the 2010 release Centurian offered a similar experience with R-rated violence and gore.

The big limited release story was the $20,000 per-screen average of Cedar Rapids, which arguably should have been a mainstream release in the first place. The well-reviewed Ed Helms/Anne Heche/John C. Reilly farce debuted on just fifteen screens, and this solid opening means that it will likely expand in the coming weeks. The Roommate dropped a terrific-for-a-horror film 44% for a ten-day total of $46 million. Sanctum also held water (barely), dropping 44% for a $17 million ten-day total. In holdover news, No Strings Attached dropped just 29% in the face of direct-demo competition, and the Natalie Portman/Ashton Kutcher rom-com is now at $59 million. Also holding strong is The Green Hornet, with $92 million and high hopes to be the first 2011 release to cross $100 million. In Oscar news, Black Swan sits with $99 million, The King’s Speech is at $92 million, The Fighter is at $85 million, The Social Network is at $96 million, and True Grit sits with $160 million.

To read more about this article go to Mendelson Memos

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