Sony-Screen Gems' vamp actioner bows with $25.4 mil

Domestic box office continues to outperform 2011 totals, with the weekend B.O. topped by Sony-Screen Gems’ “Underworld Awakening,” which scored an estimated three-day bow of $25.4 million.

“Underworld,” which also tallied a projected $13.4 million from 36 day-and-date overseas territories, beat the top Stateside player this time last year — Paramount’s “No Strings Attached,” with $19.7 million domestically.

“We’re in really good shape, not just domestically but worldwide as well,” Sony distribution exec Rory Bruer told Variety. “Underworld” cost a reported $70 million.

Domestic box office came in a whopping 32% ahead of 2011’s comparable frame.

Helping to push the needle was Fox’s “Red Tails,” which grossed $19.1 million — better than 2011’s second-place pic, “The Green Hornet,” which tallied $17.7 million in its soph sesh. Projections going into the weekend had “Red Tails” at just north of $10 million.

Fox senior VP of domestic distribution Chris Aronson said “Red Tails” overperformed in African-American-driven markets like Atlanta, but that the film “certainly works across a wide variety of age groups and demographics.”

Playing to expectations, Warner Bros.’ “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” scored $10.5 million from an expanded 2,630 Stateside runs, while Relativity Media’s “Haywire” bagged an estimated $9 million through Sunday. Domestic cume on “Extremely Loud” is $11.2 million.

At the specialty B.O., Fox Searchlight’s “The Descendants” crossed the $50 million mark Stateside thanks to its $2.5 million weekend perf. The pic seems to have received a Golden Globes boost, growing 17% over last weekend at 100 fewer locations.

The Weinstein Co., meanwhile, broadened its Globes-feted pair, “The Iron Lady” and “The Artist,” grossing an estimated $3.7 million and $2.4 million, respectively.

“Iron Lady,” which screened at 1,076 playdates, reached $12.6 million domestically; “The Artist” has cumed $12.1 million from almost half the total locations (662).

Gotham’s Metropolitan Opera continued its sixth season of live transmissions on Saturday, screening Jeremy Sams’ “The Enchanted Island” for an estimated $1.76 million in North America. It was seen live on more than 850 screens, with an additional 650 screens in a total of 40 overseas markets.

3D ‘Underworld’

“Awakening” — the fourth offering in Screen Gems and Lakeshore Entertainment’s “Underworld” franchise — marked the series’ first 3D installment. The format contributed a sizable 74% of the pic’s weekend gross, of which approximately 15% (or $3.8 million) came from 254 digital-only Imax locations. Other large-format houses contributed about 7% of the film’s total 3D take.

Beside “Awakening,” Imax still is screening “Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol,” but only at film print locations.

As the inaugural 3D installment for the “Underworld” franchise, “Awakening” joins a recent group of 3D first-timers in tentpole franchises. Last summer saw three — “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides,” “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows — Part 2″ and “Transformers: Dark of the Moon” — though 3D earned mixed results, “Transformers” being the best.

Sony’s Bruer said positive word of mouth for “Awakening,” along with 3D, should lengthen the film’s theatrical life.

The fourquel saw an unusually good 9% Friday-to-Saturday uptick, as well as a solid A- CinemaScore rating.

But genre pics like “Awakening” typically see steep drops in their second outing. “Awakening,” however, attracted a fairly evenly split audience: 55% were men; 60%, over 25.

“Red Tails” also skewed toward older men, though that pic drew a considerable female crowd, at 49%. Fox said the film — about the first African-American pilots, known as the Tuskegee Airmen, to fly combat missions during WWII — earned an A+ CinemaScore among auds over 50. (Pic secured an overall A rating.)

“Red Tails” was fully financed by Lucasfilm for around $58 million, not including marketing costs. The pic’s Stateside prospects look good, especially when considering “Red Tails” grew a commanding 44% from Friday to Saturday.

“People worked really hard on this movie,” Aronson said. “It’s so rare to see a passion project be rewarded like this.”

‘Loud’ and diverse

Warner’s patience paid off with “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close,” allowing the film to generate buzz for four weeks outside of New York and L.A. “Loud’s” top location was in Oklahoma City, followed by sites in Boca Raton, Fla., and Chino Hills, Calif.

While the film has earned mixed responses from critics, audiences gave it a more agreeable A- rating. “Loud” played to 59% women, with 82% of its audience over 25.

“This could be one of those movies that audiences embrace, while critics may not have necessarily,” said Warner exec VP-general sales manager Jeff Goldstein. “It really has played to a cross-section of the U.S.”

The weekend’s other wide release, Relativity’s “Haywire,” saw a mostly under-35 aud, at 64%. “Haywire” garnered a poor D+ CinemaScore.

Though the actioner was budgeted a reported $23 million, Relativity’s outlay was reduced to $1.5 million after tax rebates and foreign pre-sales. “Haywire” launched day-and-date via local distribs in seven key international markets, including the U.K., Russia, Taiwan and India.

Warner’s “Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows” topped the international B.O. for its third straight week with an estimated $18.1 million. Sony’s “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” followed, grossing $15.7 million. Internationally, “Sherlock” has cumed $178.6 million; “Tattoo,” $94.8 million.

Launching in six markets overseas four weeks ahead of the U.S., Warner-New Line’s “Journey to the Center of the Earth” sequel “Journey 2: The Mysterious Island” took in $8.2 million — more than double the amount of its predecessor at this point of release. Pic bowed mostly in Asia, timed for the Chinese New Year. Top market for “Journey 2″ was South Korea, where the pic grossed $2.7 million, followed by Australia, with $2 million, and Hong Kong, which contributed $1.1 million. In the latter country, “Journey 2″ debuted at nearly 160% ahead of the No. 2 local opener.

Meanwhile, Summit-Lionsgate’s “The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn — Part 1″ surpassed the $700 million worldwide benchmark this weekend. Pic is on track to eclipse the previous “Twilight” franchise best, “New Moon,” which cumed $709.8 million globally.

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