‘Dear John’ tackles ‘Avatar’ at box office

Femmes push Sony pic to top spot

Sony/Screen Gems scored a touchdown pass this Super Bowl weekend at the domestic B.O. as Nicholas Sparks’ lit adaptation “Dear John” opened to an estimated $32.4 million, tackling 20th Century Fox’s holdover phenom “Avatar,” which landed in the No. 2 spot with $23.6 million in its eighth frame.

The weekend’s other wide opener, Lionsgate’s John Travolta starrer “From Paris With Love,” saw a disappointing launch with $8.1 million at 2,722 playdates. Pic was expected to see a steep drop Sunday as its core male aud stayed home for the game.

Studios predicted a 50%-60% decline across the board between the Super Bowl and the storm dubbed Snowpocalypse on the East Coast.

Fox Searchlight’s “Crazy Heart” saw the biggest post-Oscar nominations boost, earning $3.6 million after jumping from 239 screens to 819 in its eighth frame for a cume of $11.2 million. Pic scored mentions for stars Jeff Bridges and Maggie Gyllenhaal, as well as for songsters T Bone Burnett and Ryan Bingham in the original song category.

Overseas, James Cameron’s “Avatar” stayed on top, slipping 20% for an estimated weekend gross of $76 million at 10,523 screens in 120 territories.

Femmes made up a whopping 84% of the aud for “Dear John,” directed by Lasse Hallstrom and produced and financed by Relativity Media. Aud for the pic starring Channing Tatum and Amanda Seyfried was 64% under 21. “Dear John” scored a per-screen average with $10,913 at 2,969 locations, hitting notable highs on Friday and Saturday with $13.8 million and $12.4 million, respectively. Pic was expected to fall 50% on Sunday for an estimated $6.2 million.

Total should give the film just enough yardage to become the highest-grossing film ever opening over the pigskin frame. Previous record holder was Disney’s “Hannah Montana/Miley Cyrus: Best of Both Worlds Concert Tour,” bowing to $31.1 million on Feb. 1, 2008.

Geoffrey Ammer, prexy of worldwide marketing for Relativity Media, said execs expected a drop from Friday to Saturday, “but to only drop 10% is attributed to the picture and its playability; there’s something in this movie for everybody.”

The most recent adaptations of Sparks’ novels, Warner Bros.’ “Nights in Rodanthe” (2008) and New Line’s “The Notebook” (2004), opened at $13.4 million and $13.5 million, respectively, less than “John’s” Friday take alone.

“John” also became Screen Gems’ highest opener, topping “The Exorcism of Emily Rose” with $30 million in 2005.

Blizzard conditions on the East Coast put a damper on Lionsgate’s “From Paris With Love,” with some 200 theaters failing to report grosses because of the storm.

Tracking for R-rated “Paris” skewed older, with 75% of the aud over 25.

After seven chart-topping weeks, “Avatar” finally fell to No. 2, slipping 25% compared to last weekend’s 14% decline. Pic’s overall haul Stateside reached $630 million combined with an international cume of $1.58 billion for a worldwide take of $2.21 billion.

Domestically, “Avatar” earned a screen average of $7,867 at 3,000 locations, grossing $6.1 million on Friday, $11.5 million on Saturday and an estimated $6 million Sunday.

“Avatar” picked up nine Oscar nominations, including picture and director, matched only by Summit’s “The Hurt Locker.”

“Hurt Locker” was released on DVD on Jan. 12; this week’s bigscreen re-release grossed only an estimated $123,000 at 110 screens for a U.S. total of $13.4 million.

Other Oscar hopefuls expanding this weekend were Lionsgate’s “Precious” and Sony Pictures Classics’ “An Education,” both of which landed in the expanded best pic category. “Precious” earned an estimated $440,000 from 669 locations from 222, while “An Education” saw a sizeable bump with $915,407 at 761 compared to last weekend’s $119,146 off 75.

Sony Classics has continued its steady rollout of the Britpic, having cumed $9.7 million since its release Oct. 9. “Precious” has totaled $46 million since its release Nov. 6.

“Crazy Heart” was up 58%, performing best on the coasts, with strong turnout in older-skewing markets such as Phoenix and Palm Springs. Searchlight plans to continue its steady rollout of the film, expanding to some 1,000 theaters next weekend.

Micro distrib Oscilloscope’s launch of “Terribly Happy” screened at one location for an impressive $11,605, the frame’s top per-screen average.

The frame’s other top players included Warner Bros.’ “Edge of Darkness” and Fox’s “Tooth Fairy.”

In the No. 4 spot, “Darkness” slipped 59% in its soph sesh with $7 million at 3,066, followed by “Tooth Fairy” in its third frame, earning $6.5 million at 3,218. “Darkness” has cumed $29 million, “Tooth Fairy” $34.3 million.

Disney’s “When in Rome” dropped 55% in its soph sesh with an estimated $5.5 million for a cume of $20.9 million. With a similar target aud as “Dear John” — pic ranked on top last weekend among auds 18-25 — holdover likely fell victim to the frame’s fresh offering.

At the international B.O., “Avatar” stayed on top in most major markets, including the frame’s leader, Italy, with $8.6 million for a foreign total of $69.7 million. Pic earned $5.1 million in the U.K. to surpass previous box office toppers “Mamma Mia!” and “Titanic” as the territory’s all-time highest grosser with $144 million.

Warner Bros.’ holdover “Sherlock Holmes” grossed an estimated $16.6 million from 5,230 screens in 57 markets, cuming $242.5 million.

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