“The Vow” and “Safe House” fend off “Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance”

By Scott Mendelson

HollywoodNews.com: It was yet another ‘photo-finish’ at the box office over this President’s Day weekend, but as always, it’s the hard numbers rather than the arbitrary rankings that matter. But since we need to decide which movies to discuss first, in order we shall go! For the moment, it appears that Safe House will top the charts in its second weekend after barely missing the top slot last weekend. It grossed $23.9 million over the Fri-Sun weekend and $28 million over the holiday. Safe House will have grossed $82 million by Monday, a rather huge total for Mr. Washington. In just eleven days, Safe House is Washington’s 7th-biggest grosser, out-grossing such films as Training Day ($76 million), Man On Fire ($77 million), and Unstoppable ($81 million). Barring a complete collapse, Safe House should become Denzel Washington’s fifth $100 million grosser over the next weekend, with an outside shot of eclipsing the $130 million gross of American Gangster, which is currently his top grosser. While we can debate how much credit co-star Ryan Reynolds gets for this one (he certainly didn’t hurt…), Safe House is already his fourth-biggest grosser and will likely out-gross Green Lantern’s $116 million total in a few weeks. I’m frankly shocked at the strong legs for this one, as it’s certainly one of Washington’s worst genre entries in a long career with a number of solid adult-skewing action pictures (it looks like it was shot through a puke filter and edited in a blender, plus the script is so generic it could have been written in a Mad Libs book). Still, star-power is a rare thing these days, and Denzel Washington clearly has it.

So does Channing Tatum and, in the right project, Rachel McAdams, so it will be interesting to see how The Vow’s popularity affect next month’s 21 Jump Street. The Vow is estimated to gross around $23.6 million for the Fri-Sun period and $27.4 million for the Fri-Sun period. No matter who ends up on top, both films exhibited strong holds. With $89 million by Monday, The Vow is already Screen Gems’s highest grossing film ever, topping the $80 million total of Dear John. The 43% drop for The Vow is slightly smaller than the 47% drop for Dear John, but the new film was bolstered by a record-setting $11 million on Tuesday, February 14th. Even if you count such special effects-filled entries as Titanic, Pearl Harbor, and Ghost, The Vow is currently the ninth-biggest romantic drama of all-time. If you remove the spectacle-filled entries, it’s currently sixth, with an eye toward surpassing An Officer and a Gentlemen’s $129 million gross and challenging Jerry Maguire ($153 million) for the top pure romantic drama.

There were three new releases this weekend, although one of them was a prestige foreign release that wasn’t expected to make a dime stateside. The top new opener was Sony’s Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance. The sequel to the $115 million-domestic grosser ($228 million worldwide) opened with $22 million for the Fri-Sun portion and $25 million for the holiday weekend. That’s a far cry from the $45 million 3-day/$52 million 4-day opening of the first film over this same weekend in 2007, which still stands as Nicolas Cage’s biggest opening. But, Sony knew that interest had waned over the last five years, owing both to the character’s relative cult nature and the fact that the first film was pretty terrible. So instead of spending $110 million, they budgeted just $75 million and hired Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor, best known as the directors of the Crank series. So while the opening isn’t very good, it shouldn’t be compared directly to the first film’s far-more high-profile debut. Sony played it fast and cheap this time, producing a film that, by general critical consensus, was pretty cheap and not quite as fast as it should be. Anyway, Sony is hoping that the 3D conversion will equal big bucks overseas (Underworld: Awakenings is at around $150 million worldwide and still going strong). If Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance comes anywhere near the original film’s $228 million total, we can certainly expect Nic Cage to don the flaming skull yet again in a few years.

Slightly more problematic (if only due to a higher profile) was the $17.5 million 3-day/$21 million 4-day debut of Fox’s $70 million romantic action-comedy This Means War. The film was originally scheduled for a Tuesday the 14th opening on the back of strong test scores. But was moved back to a conventional Friday opening due to low tracking figures (tracking is not an estimate of potential box office, but rather a survey of whether potential audiences are aware of and are interest in an upcoming release) and the predicted box office might of The Vow. Alas, audiences were not all that interested in an (allegedly) watered-down mix of romance and action when they could get hard doses of the real thing with either The Vow or Safe House. Not helping was a painfully spoilerific trailer that basically laid out the first two acts of the picture and revealed most of the big set pieces. Star-power can only get you so far if the movie doesn’t look good. Chris Pine, and Tom Hardy may be solid actors with plenty of screen presence and the good luck to be involved in massive franchises, but they are not ‘movie stars’ yet. As for Reese Witherspoon, this is her sixth-biggest live-action opening, coming in ahead of last year’s solid (but much cheaper) Fox release, Water For Elephants and the 2005 romantic comedy Just Like Heaven (both of which opened with $16 million). This is a moderate whiff for all involved, but not a catastrophe yet. It IS a Fox release, so foreign numbers could be huge).

The Secret World of Arrietty has been available overseas since around 2011, and it has already grossed $126 million in foreign ticket sales. The Studio Ghibli feature, which was translated from Japanese to English with American voice actors, grossed a rather large $6.4 million over the Fri-Sun weekend and $8 million in four days on 1,300 screens. That may not seem like much, but said total already makes it the eighth-biggest domestic grosser among Japanese animation releases in America, or third if you don’t count feature film versions of popular kids’ animated series (five of the top ten are three Pokemon films, Digimon: the Movie, and Yu-Gi-Oh: The Movie). If it has anything resembling legs, it will surpass the $19 million gross of Yu-Gi-Oh: The Movie and become the third-biggest Japanese animated film in domestic box office history, behind only the first two Pokemon films ($43 million and $89 million respectively). Still, these Studio Ghibli releases are more about prestige than profit, as its Disney’s way of showcasing some pretty phenomenal animated features made outside our shores. That they may make a couple bucks from it only makes the philanthropic gesture all the sweeter.

There isn’t much to report in holdover news, other than to point out that nine of the top ten films are all within the last three weekends (The Grey, at number 10 and with a $48 million cume, was four weekends ago). Star Wars Episode One: The Phantom Menace 3D turned out to be a one-weekend wonder, as it plunged 65% in weekend two. That’s not surprising, as those who were curious went last weekend and the 3D wasn’t quite entrancing enough (and the movie not quite good enough) to get people coming back. Still, with $35 million in eleven days, this is basically free money for Lucas and 20th Century Fox. Showing surprising strength was Journey 2: The Mysterious Island, which dipped 27% in weekend two for a $20 million Fri-Sun gross. It’s at $53 million today and should flirt with $60 million by Monday or Tuesday. Comparatively, Journey to the Center of the Earth had $43 million after the end of its second weekend. Chronicle has displayed surprising legs and crossed $50 million this weekend and should hit $60 million next weekend. Also holding strong, even in the face of excessive competition, is The Woman In Black. The CBS Films release has grossed $46 million as of Friday, making it Daniel Radcliffe’s ninth-biggest grosser ever. In Oscar nominee benchmarks, The Descendants topped $75 million while Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close crossed $30 million.

That’s it for this weekend. Join us next time for another stupidly crowded weekend. The Jennifer Aniston/Paul Rudd comedy Wanderlust (from the director of Wet Hot American Summer and Role Models), squares off against the Amanda Seyfried thriller Gone and Tyler Perry’s Good Deeds. The wild card is Acts of Valor, a seemingly generic (and cheap – about $18 million) Navy Seals action picture that stars actual Navy Seals. Until then, keep reading/commenting/trolling/etc!

To read more go to Mendelson’s Memo

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