War actioner takes in $24.7 mil to best competish

Despite a mixed bag of results from a handful of low-risk weekend releases, the domestic box office kept its perfect year-over-year streak intact, as overall grosses beat 2011 for the eighth straight frame.

Taking command of the weekend was Relativity Media’s Navy SEALs actioner “Act of Valor,” which debuted to an estimated $24.7 million through Sunday. “Valor,” which cost Relativity about $35 million to acquire and release, exceeded most expectations.

Overseas B.O., meanwhile, gave way to a new weekend champ: “Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance.” Released internationally by local distribs, “Ghost Rider” collected an estimated total of $29 million from 12 territories, unseating Warner Bros.-New Line’s “Journey 2: The Mysterious Island,” which came in second with $18.5 million. “Journey 2″ reached $159.2 million in offshore grosses; “Ghost Rider,” which Sony is handling Stateside, has posted $45.5 million internationally so far.

At No. 2 in the U.S., Lionsgate’s latest Tyler Perry offering, “Good Deeds” took an estimated $16 million in three days. That’s on the low side for Perry openings, but the helmer maintained a manageable budget of less than $15 million.

The weekend’s remaining wide openers, Universal’s “Wanderlust” and Summit’s “Gone,” struggled to find auds, with an estimated $6.6 million and $5 million, respectively. “Wanderlust” carries a $30 million pricetag, while Summit has a net risk on “Gone” of about $2 million, according to sources.

Neither studio should be too surprised by the pair’s middling perfs, however. Pre-weekend tracking had suggested that both would range in the mid-to-high single digits. That said, overall box office displayed considerable elasticity, up 23% over the same frame last year.

Stalwart holdovers, led by “Journey 2,” with an estimated $13.5 million (down just 32% in its third frame), also helped boost this weekend’s B.O. U’s “Safe House” and Sony-Screen Gems’ “The Vow” — also in their third outings — grossed $11.4 million and $10 million, respectively. “Safe House” held remarkably well, down 52%, considering the film faced a two-sided demo war: “Valor” attracted action auds, while “Good Deeds” appealed to African-Americans.

“Journey 2,” with $235 million globally, should surpass its predecessor on a worldwide scale sometime this week.

“The Vow,” co-financed by Spyglass Entertainment, is the first Screen Gems title to cross the $100 million domestic mark, while “Safe House” is a touch behind at $98 million domestically.

And achieving a B.O. first for newbie distrib Open Road Films, “The Grey,” in its fifth frame, surpassed $50 million domestically this weekend.

Throughout the Oscars weekend, the Weinstein Co.’s “The Artist” rose a projected 3% over last weekend’s three-day gross thanks to a notable bump in Stateside locations. Pic took an estimated $3 million from 966 engagements for a cume just shy of $32 million.

Oscar-nommed Belgian film “Bullhead,” from Drafthouse Films, added 25 playdates in its second week, averaging a paltry $1,215 at 34 locations. The film is approaching the $1 million mark in Stateside grosses.

Elsewhere at the specialty box office, Sundance Selects’ Albanian drama “The Forgiveness of Blood” bowed Friday at three U.S. engagements for an OK weekend per-screen average of $10,767. Pic tallied an estimated $32,151 in three days.

Seal of approval

In a rare occurrence for audience polling firm CinemaScore, “Act of Valor” received an A rating across all segments. “Good Deeds,” which also averaged an A overall, received an A- from men.

“Act of Valor” benefited from catering to a predominately male audience, at 71%, but positive reactions among women as well means the female demo could grow based on word of mouth.

“There was a bit of an underdog feeling for this movie,” said Relativity prexy of worldwide distribution Kyle Davies. “It’s not the traditional effects-driven action movie.”

Produced and financed by Bandito Brothers for $12 million, “Act of Valor” features real active-duty Navy SEALs. Relativity acquired the film for $12 million, but thanks to foreign pre-sales, reduced its risk to approximately $5.5 million (not including a reported $20 million-$30 million marketing spend).

As expected, “Valor” drew topnotch results from markets outside of New York and L.A., with some of its highest-grossing locations in cities like Baltimore, San Antonio and Honolulu.

Acting as ideal counterprogramming to “Valor,” “Good Deeds” skewed overwhelming to female filmgoers, which accounted for 76% of the pic’s opening gross. Despite direct competition with “Safe House,” which continued to play strongly among African-Americans, “Deeds” saw the best Friday-to-Saturday bump during opening weekend (at 25%) of any Perry film.

“When you look inside the numbers and examine east to west geographically, you see that (Perry) is really consistent,” said Lionsgate distrib topper David Spitz.

Demos divided

Over-25 auds, which accounted for the lion’s share of this weekend’s receipts, were split among the weekend’s four wide releases — though fewer went the way of “Gone” and Universal’s “Wanderlust,” which underperformed despite good star-wattage in Paul Rudd and Jennifer Aniston for the Judd Apatow-produced laffer.

“The studio took a chance with a creative team with which we have a very strong relationship,” said U prexy of domestic distribution Nikki Rocco. “That said, the film unfortunately performed just OK.”

Like “Good Deeds,” both “Wanderlust” and “Gone” skewed mostly toward women. Summit distribution head Richie Fay said “Gone” competed against “The Vow” for female attention: “They were somewhat in our sweet spot,” he noted.

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