Weeper tallies $41.7 mil; 'Safe House' follows with $39.3 mil

The domestic box office impressed with across-the-board strength during a bountiful weekend that saw the newest crop of pics get off to a strong start, led by Sony-Screen Gems’ outstanding $41.7 million debut perf for “The Vow,” and resiliency demonstrated by holdovers.

Globally, Warner Bros.-New Line’s “Journey 2: The Mysterious Island” won the weekend, posting an estimated $53.1 million, including a chart-topping international weekend gross of $25.5 million. “The Vow,” meanwhile, collected $51.4 million worldwide over the weekend.

Though most observers expected the romantic drama “The Vow” (from Spyglass Entertainment) to deliver domestically in the run-up to the Valentine’s Day holiday, the weekend’s breadth of success had bizzers buzzing.

Overall domestic B.O. clocked in between 28%-30% higher than the totals earned for the same frame in 2011. The domestic tally of $190 million marks the highest non-holiday weekend haul ever for this early in the calendar year.

The frame’s debut foursome each collected north of $20 million – the first time that has happened in more than three years. Universal’s Denzel Washington actioner “Safe House” exceeded expectations with an estimated $39.3 million, while Dwayne Johnson starrer “Journey 2″ debuted in third place with an estimated $27.6 million, outstripping even optimistic projections.

With three weeks of international playtime prior to this weekend, “Journey 2,” budgeted for a reported $79 million, already has cumed $102.3 million globally.

Also boosting Stateside totals, Fox’s 3D re-release of “Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace” opened to an estimated $23 million, in addition to an overseas debut of $20.5 million from 61 markets.

With the B.O. also turning in better-than-expected results the previous weekend against competition from the Super Bowl, bizzers now wonder whether the heightened theater traffic can maintain momentum headed into President’s Day weekend.

Even with four new entries crowding the market this weekend, Fox’s “Chronicle” and CBS Films’ “The Woman in Black” saw stalwart holdover perfs in their second outings, estimating $12.3 million and $10.3 million, respectively.

“Chronicle” dropped just 44% for a domestic cume of $40.2 million; “Woman” fell 51%, better than most horror pics, totaling $35.5 million.

U’s family holdover “Big Miracle,” also in its second frame, fell a respectable 50%, especially considering both “Journey 2″ and “Star Wars” drew a sizable family constituency. “Miracle” earned an estimated $3.9 million, landing in the top 10 and approaching a Stateside cume of $13.2 million.

Nikki Rocco, prexy of domestic distribution at Universal, attributed the continued spike in moviegoing, in part, to a diversity of product. “I also think people feel there’s a rebound in the economy,” Rocco said. “People again are enjoying going to the movies.”

The weekend’s demographic breakdown suggested most quadrants found something to see. For instance, “The Vow” drew an overwhelming response from women at 72%, while “Star Wars” grossed 60% of its opening from men. Both “Safe House” and “Journey 2″ were split evenly between the genders.

Not surprisingly, “The Vow,” which financier Spyglass spent the last 16 years to develop, played well with under-25 auds, though a significant adult crowd (at 45%) also turned out. “Vow” now stands as the highest opening for Screen Gems, besting the label’s similarly femme-targeted “Dear John,” which opened to $30.5 million in 2010.

“We were very high on the film going into (the weekend),” said Sony distribution exec Rory Bruer. “But to have this kind of success proves that Channing Tatum and Rachel McAdams really killed it. I can’t wait for Valentine’s Day.”

U’s “Safe House” lodged a strong opening that would have been tops had the film opened during any other weekend so far this year.

“Safe House” drew 62% of its debut from filmgoers over 30 due to the film’s R rating. The $85 million pic (not including marketing costs) ranks as star Washington’s second best domestic opener, behind 2007’s “American Gangster” at $43.6 million. “Safe House” also opened in 25 day-and-date overseas markets, including Australia, Russia and Spain, for an estimated weekend tally of $10.2 million.

Full-figured 3D frame

While Fox marketed “The Phantom Menace” as a 3D event (pic’s 99% 3D turnout reflects that), a better-than-usual 74% of moviegoers opted to see “Journey 2″ in 3D. Pic’s 3D locations repped 79% of the total count.

Imax contributed more than 14% of the opening domestic gross for “Journey 2″ with only 8% of the engagements.

Phil Groves, senior VP of worldwide distribution and studio-exhib relations at Imax, said “Journey 2″ performed at the high-end of expectations for most family films in Imax. “Happy Feet 2,” for instance, opened over the holiday season with $1.8 million from Imax – $2 million less than what “Journey 2″ earned. Imax locations saw a massive 100% Friday-to-Saturday uptick for “Journey 2,” which overall rose 94% on Saturday.

“We split some of the family audience with ‘Star Wars, ‘ ” acknowledged Warner prexy of domestic distribution Dan Fellman. “But considering where tracking had us (in the mid-teens), this is a big, big win for us.”

“Journey 2″ and “Safe House” scored A- CinemaScore ratings; “The Vow” received a B.

Fox distribution exec Chris Aronson said “The Phantom Menace” received above-average ratings from parents and kids, adding that “nostalgia was a factor with adults, who wanted to experience the film again in 3D.”

The reboot’s best overseas perf came from Germany, where the pic grossed $3.7 million, followed by the U.K. and France, each contributing just north of $2 million.

Acad-nommed specialty perfs

Sony Pictures Classics launched foreign-language Oscar contender “In Darkness,” which averaged an OK $9,188 from three screens for an estimated weekend total of $27,563.

Also, this year’s crop of Oscar-nominated short films, distributed domestically by Shorts Intl. Magnolia Pictures, scored the biggest opening yet ($390,000) for the lauded bunch. Shorts bowed at 120 playdates – another high-water mark for the collection – and averaged $3,250 per screen.

Gotham’s Metropolitan Opera continued its sixth season of live transmissions on Saturday, screening Wagner’s “Gotterdammerung” for an estimated $1.8 million in North America. It was seen live on more than 850 screens, with an additional 650 screens in a total o f 38 overseas markets.

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