A Super Bowl Squeaker: Chronicle Edges The Woman in Black

Superhero teens battled Harry Potter and a dead lady, and all Hollywood cheered this high-grossing battle

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Twentieth Century Fox

Dane DeHaan in Chronicle.

22-21. That was the tentative final score in a thrilling Super Bowl weekend game, as the superhero kids of Chronicle edged the haunted-house drama The Woman in Black for the top spot at the North American box office. According to preliminary studio estimates, Chronicle will earn $22 million to The Woman in Black’s $21 million. The early results had the entire film industry cheering, for this was the first Super Bowl weekend that two new films had topped $20 million. The overall box office was up about 37% over Super Bowl weekend last year; indeed, every weekend so far in 2012 has bettered the same frame last year. In corner offices all over Hollywood, you could hear the cheer: We are the champions!

By a mandate more binding than any act of Congress, all Americans are obliged to spend one winter Sunday afternoon and evening watching the Super Bowl. Film distributors have taken that to mean that guys will boycott movie theaters on the preceding Friday and Saturday as well, and programmed the weekend with female-angled comedies (He’s Just Not That into You in 2009), weepie dramas (Dear John in 2010) and girl-in-jeopardy horror movies (last year’s The Roommate).

CBS Films filled that slot this year with The Woman in Black: a Gothic melodrama about a dead woman unleashing her vengeful spirit upon children in the town where her own son died. Her main prey was a young solicitor played by Harry Potter himself, Daniel Radcliffe. The movie achieved its goal of luring young women: its audience was 59% female and 57% under the age of 25. Most of them weren’t crazy about the film: those polled by CinemaScore gave the film a mediocre B-. But since CBS Films bought the North American rights for just $3 million, the company is already well and truly in the black.

(MORE: Read Corliss’s review of The Woman in Black)

Women were also wooed by Big Miracle, the inspirational tale of Drew Barrymore freeing a whale from under the Alaskan ice. This more-or-less true-life adventure met its target demographic (68% female, 67% younger than 25) and aced a higher CinemaScore (A-); it just didn’t attract enough customers, earning a minnowish $8.5 million for the weekend. The second consecutive film to be set in the frigid 50th state, after last week’s The Grey, the film found its biggest audience among the locals: two theaters in Anchorage broke house records. But don’t expect a big miracle in the Lower 48: the movie opened to less than half of Dolphin Tale in its debut last fall.

(MORE: Read Mary Pols’ review of Big Miracle)

That left the young male audience for Chronicle, the faux-found-footage story of three teenagers who get zapped by an underground crystal and develop superpowers they are not nearly mature enough to handle. Fox, which produced the no-star movie for just $12 million, had predicted an $8 million opening. Chronicle almost tripled that amount, winning a B CinemaScore from an audience that was 55% male and 60% under 25. Will the film attract any stragglers on Super Bowl Sunday night? Maybe only from the teen boys like those in the movie: disaffected kids who refuse to watch TV with their families.

(MORE: Read Corliss’s review of Chronicle)

Here are the Sunday estimates of this weekend’s top-grossing pictures in North American theaters, as reported by Box Office Mojo:

  1. Chronicle, $22 million, first weekend
  2. The Woman in Black, $21 million, first weekend
  3. The Grey, $9.5 million; $34.8 million, second week
  4. Big Miracle, $8.5 million, first weekend
  5. Underworld Awakening, $5.6 million; $54.4 million, third week
  6. One for the Money, $5.3 million; $19.7 million, second week
  7. Red Tails, $5 million; $41.3 million, third week
  8. The Descendants, $4.6 million; $65.5 million, 12th week
  9. Man on a Ledge, $4.5 million; $14.7 million, second week
  10. Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, $3.9 million; $26.8 million, seventh week