Americas found a suitable way to celebrate the long Presidents’ Day weekend: they went to the movies and spent a vault-load of dead Presidents, plus a bundle of Alexander Hamiltons (he graces the $10 bill). Each of the top five pictures—the holdovers Safe House, The Vow and Journey 2: The Mysterious Island and the debut films Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance and This Means War—earned more than $20 million in a four-day weekend. That hasn’t happened in more than three years, when Paul Blart: Mall Cop, Gran Torino, My Bloody Valentine 3-D, Notorious and Hotel for Dogs all made at least $20 million during the Martin Luther King fête in 2009. Let’s hear it for holidays!
So far, it’s been a bountiful 2012 for Hollywood. Last weekend, when The Vow‘s $41.2 million narrowly beat Safe House‘s $40.2 million, it marked the first time that a pair of films had opened to more than $40 million in the same three-day weekend since WALL·E and Wanted in June 2008. After a doleful 2011, when no movie opened to as much as $40 million until Fast Five kick-started an early-summer rally on the last weekend of April, business is booming—every weekend this year has topped the take of the same frame last year—and movie moguls are no longer as depressed as the Greek economy.
Safe House, starring Denzel Washington as a rogue spy on the run with novice CIA agent Ryan Reynolds, cadged $28.4 million over the four-day holiday, to win the sweepstakes at North America theaters, according to the studios’ Monday estimates. (Final results will be issued Tuesday afternoon.) The true-life weepie The Vow, featuring Rachel McAdams and Channing Tatum as the star-crossed lovers, was second with $26.6 million. And the Journey to the Center of the Earth sequel Journey 2: The Mysterious Island, which replaced Brendan Fraser as the father-figure adventurer with Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, enjoyed an impressively steady “hold,” securing third place by dropping only 3% from its opening-weekend gross.
(UPDATE: In the full four-day figures issued Tuesday, Safe House finished at $27.5 million, nearly $1 million below the preliminary estimate, but still No. 1 for the long weekend. The Vow was second with $26.6 million, Journey 2 third with $25.9 million, Ghost Rider 2 fourth with $25.5 million and This Means War fifth with $20,006,912. So the original declaration of five films topping $20 million is confirmed—barely but really.)
If there are any frowny faces in Tinseltown, they belong to the producers of the two big movies that opened this weekend. As the year’s first big romantic comedy, This Means War should have cleaned up. But the film’s lead, Reese Witherspoon, couldn’t overcome a sheaf of lethal reviews. Between her Oscar-winning turn as June Carter Cash in Walk the Line in 2005 and This Means War this weekend, only one of Reese’s pieces—the 2008 seasonal comedy Four Christmases—opened above $20 million or earned as much as $60 million in its domestic run. (We’re not including her voice work in the DreamWorks cartoon smash Monsters vs. Aliens.) Though still radiating preternatural cuteness, Witherspoon is no longer so attractive at the box office .
(MORE: See Mary Pols’ review of This Means War)
An even bigger disappointment was Spirit of Vengeance, which brought Nicolas Cage back as Johnny Blaze in a sequel to Ghost Rider. Just five Februarys ago, that comic-book-inspired epic earned $45.5 million in its debut frame, on its way to a pretty-cool $115.8 million domestic total (plus $112.5 million abroad). Later that year, Cage’s National Treasure: Book of Secrets amassed $457.4 million worldwide. But that was when he was a star. Ghost Rider 2, which was predicted by many industry touts to win the weekend but which pulled in only about half of the original’s first-weekend gross, is just the second Cage match since 2007 to open to as much as $20 million; the other was the soulful thriller Knowing in 2009. In the interim, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, Season of the Witch and Drive Angry have crashed and burned. Last autumn’s Trespass, a hostage drama with Cage and Nicole Kidman, earned exactly $24,094 in its entire theatrical engagement. That’s thousands. If belly-flopping were an Olympic diving event, Nic would win the gold medal.
Farther down the list, the rerelease of Star Wars: Episode 1—The Phantom Menace finished sixth. Worldwide, it squeezed past Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone for 11th place on the all-time worldwide list, just $4.5 million behind No. 10, The Dark Knight. Within the week, the least loved of George Lucas’s Skywalker epics will reach the $1-billion mark in global earnings. Disney opened The Secret World of Arrietty, the latest from Japanese ani-master Hayao Miyazaki, in 1,552 theaters and managed a decent $8.1 million. Arrietty has already earned $134.5 million worldwide, mostly in Japan.
(MORE: Read Mary Pols’ review of The Secret World of Arrietty)
Among Oscar contenders, The Descendants, in 11th place with $3.5 million, crossed the $75-million platform in its 14th week of release. In 12th place was The Artist, whose $3-million weekend take brought it to $28.1 million in its 13th week. The favorite to win the Academy Award for Best Picture, this Franco-American silent hymn to old Hollywood has yet to break into the top 10 grossers of any weekend. If it never gets there, it will be the only Best-Picture winner except for The Hurt Locker to be so loved by the Academy and so shunned by the mass of moviegoers. But director Michel Hazanavicius and distributor Harvey Weinstein will gladly accept a golden statuette over a carload of dead Presidents.
(MORE: Read about Hazanavicius’ films before The Artist)
Here are the Monday estimates of this holiday weekend’s top-grossing pictures in North American theaters, with totals for three days (Friday to Sunday) and four days (Friday to Monday), as tabulated by The Hollywood Reporter:
1. Safe House, $24 million, three days; $28.4 million, four days; $82.6 million, second week
2. The Vow, $23.6 million, three days; $26.6 million, four days; $88.5 million, second week
3. Journey 2: The Mysterious Island, $20.1 million, three days; $26.4 million, four days; $59.5 million, second week
4. Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance, $22 million, first three days; $25.7 million, first four days
5. This Means War, $17.5 million, first three days; $20.4 million, first four days; $22 million, first six days
6. Star Wars: Episode I–The Phantom Menace, $7.9 million, three days; $10.2 million, four days; $36 million, second week of rerelease
7. Chronicle, $7.5 million, three days; $9.2 million, four days; $52.7 million, third week
8. The Secret Life of Arrietty, $6.4 million, first three days; $8.1 million, first four days
9. The Woman in Black, $6.6 million, three days; $7.8 million, four days; $46.4 million, third week
10. The Grey, $3 million, three days; $3.8 million, four days; $48.7 million, fourth week