U's crime actioner tops rivals with $24.1 mil for Friday-Sunday opening

Universal’s launch of smuggling thriller “Contraband” easily corralled the top slot at the domestic box office this weekend with $24.1 million at 2,863 locations, while “Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows” topped the charts overseas with $27.4 million.

Mark Wahlberg vehicle, co-pro duced by Relativity and Working Title for about $25 million, performed well above expectations and should wind up the four-day holiday frame with $28.4 million. Overall biz for the frame was about even compared to the year-ago weekend — following three weekends of upticks.

“We’re hoping to be part of a box office rebound,” noted U’s distribution topper Nikki Rocco.

“Contraband” marked the best opening for a Working Title production, besting “The Interpreter.” It posted an A- CinemaScore with 51% male/49% female audience.

The opening of Disney’s 3D post-converted “Beauty and the Beast” finished a solid second with $18.5 million at 2,625 for the three days and a projected $24.7 million for the four days, with impressive returns expected for Monday’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day school holiday.

Mouse distribution prexy Dave Hollis said the “Lion King” conversion cost $8 million-$9 million, making the return of “Beauty” nicely profitable, and noted it has strong potential legs with an A+ CinemaScore. Audience consisted of 60% families and 28% couples.

“Beast” fell short of the $30 million-plus taken in by last September’s opening of “The Lion King 3D,” which went on to cume $94 million. Disney’s planning 3D releases of “Finding Nemo,” “Monsters, Inc.” and “The Little Mermaid.”

Paramount’s fifth frame of “Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol” narrowly won the third slot with $11.5 million at 3,346, edging out Warner Bros.’ opening of gospel-music comedy “Joyful Noise” with $11.3 million at 2,735. Monday biz could reverse those positions, with Par-Skydance’s “Ghost Protocol” on track to cume $14 million for the four days while “Noise,” starring Dolly Parton and Queen Latifah, could take in as much as $14.5 million.

“Noise,” financed by Alcon, overperformed in the South and attracted 73% females and 78% over 25.

“Ghost Protocol” is projected to hit a domestic cume of $189.2 million by the end of Monday. It continued minting foreign coin with $16.8 million at 5,847 in 58 territories to lift the international total to $320 million. Warner’s fifth frame of “Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows” came in fifth with $8.4 million at 3,155 for Friday-Sunday and a $170 million domestic cume — less than $40 million short of the original’s final Stateside take.

The “Sherlock” sequel is playing in 57 markets, with totals including a $3.4 million soph sesh in Australia and a $3.3 million Brazilian launch, pushing the foreign cume to $222 million. That’s 13% ahead of the original — which had a final foreign total of $315 million — at the same point of its release.

Par Insurge’s soph sesh of “The Devil Inside” finished sixth with $7.9 million at 2,551. Its steep 77% slide wasn’t a surprise after its sizzling record for best early January debut. “Devil,” made for $1 million, should take in $9 million for the four days for a heavenly $47.3 million cume in its first 11 days.

A trio of holiday season entries followed with respectable holds as Sony’s fourth frame of “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” finished seventh, down 40% to $6.8 million at 2,674 for the three days and an $88 million domestic cume. “Girl” also took in $16.5 million at 3,920 screens overseas for a foreign cume of $49.7 million.

Fox’s fifth outing of “Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked” came in eighth, off 39% to $5.8 million at 2,849 and a domestic cume of nearly $119 million. “Chipwrecked” also pulled in $14.4 million at 6,527 in foreign markets for a $154.1 million international take.

Disney/DreamWorks’ fourth weekend of “War Horse” rode into ninth, down 35% to $5.6 million at 2,856, with a four-day projection of $6.8 million for a $67 million domestic cume. Internationally, “Horse” grossed $6.8 million in a dozen markets for a $17.3 million foreign cume.

The Weinstein Co.’s aggressive expansion of “The Iron Lady” took the final slot in the top 10 with $5.4 million at 802 for a cume of $6 million.

Two leading awards contenders posted solid weekends as Fox Searchlight’s ninth frame of “The Descendants” grossed $2 million at 660 theaters, down only 21%, for a $47 million cume, while TWC’s eighth frame of “The Artist” gained 4% to $1.2 million at 216 to lift domestic cume to $8.8 million.

On the speciality front, Oscilloscope’s launch of “We Need to Talk About Kevin” debuted impressively with $44,000 at two locations. The Tilda Swinton starrer now has a cume of $83,297 including its one-week Oscar-qualifying run.

IFC’s “Pina” continued to perform well with $108,000 at half a dozen screens for a $540,000 cume for the Wim Wenders dance pic.

Par also saw more foreign coin for “Puss in Boots,” which snagged $14.6 million at 5,679 for a foreign cume of $331.7 million.

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