Box Office Guru Wrapup: Underworld Awakens in #1 Spot

by | January 23, 2012 | Comments

Three new action films attacked the North American box office but the futuristic vampire thriller Underworld: Awakening and the World War II-set fighter pilot pic Red Tails led the way with each generating a solid debut. The modern-day assassin flick Haywire was met with more modest results as was the nationwide expansion of the Tom Hanks-Sandra Bullock drama Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close which both settled into the top five. Overall business was affected somewhat by snowstorms in the midwest and east and Sunday grosses are expected to take a hit from the NFL conference championship games, especially male-skewing action flicks. But the marketplace showed remarkable growth over last year when the box office was in a downturn with weak films.

Kate Beckinsale enjoyed her second number one debut in as many weeks by returning to her signature franchise with Underworld: Awakening which opened on top with an estimated $25.4M. After co-starring with Mark Wahlberg in last week’s top choice Contraband, the English actress generated a strong $8,252 average from 3,078 theaters and joined all three previous films in the popular series with an opening weekend in the $20-27M range. The R-rated film was not screened for critics and eventual reviews that came out were mostly negative.

Awakening, the fourth film in Sony’s franchise and third starring Beckinsale, was the first in 3D and benefitted from higher priced tickets from that format as well as IMAX. The first Underworld bowed to $21.8M in September 2003 and was followed by a $26.9M debut this very weekend in 2006 for Underworld: Evolution. The next film, Rise of the Lycans, did not feature Beckinsale and opened to $20.8M this weekend in 2009. Given the higher prices and surcharges, Awakening attracted an audience this weekend that was about the same size as the one for Lycans. 3D accounted for a high 59% of the gross while another 15% came from IMAX.

Studio research showed that males made up 55% of the crowd while 60% was 25 and older. Fans liked what they got as the CinemaScore grade was an encouraging A-. Saturday sales went up by 9% which is impressive for the fourth installment of a sci-fi/horror franchise, however bad weather in many parts of the country on Friday could have pushed some business to the following day. The last two sequels both fell by more than 55% on the second weekend and the same should ring true for Awakening. All three pics starring Beckinsale debuted at number one.

Overseas, Underworld: Awakening debuted to an estimated $13.4M from 36 markets including a dozen top spot bows for a global bow of $38.8M.

Soaring past expectations, the period action film Red Tails opened impressively in second place with an estimated $19.1M from a more narrow 2,512 theaters for a stellar $7,604 average per location. The PG-13 film about the Tuskegee Airmen starred Cuba Gooding Jr. and Terence Howard and was financed by George Lucas who stated that no studio wanted to bankroll a $58M production with an all-black cast. Reviews were not very good, however paying members of the public thought highly of the 1940s-set film which earned a solid A grade from CinemaScore.

Red Tails played evenly across genders with males making up 51% of the crowd. As expected, older patrons took more interest with 66% being 25 and older. Saturday enjoyed a stellar 44% jump indicating the road ahead could be promising. Last week’s Martin Luther King holiday provided a great time to promote this week’s launch of the Fox release and with the start of Black History Month just a week away, the film is well-positioned to remain a timely movie choice for many. Red Tails actually attracted a larger audience per theater than Underworld did when 3D and IMAX ticket price differences are factored out.

After topping the weekend last week with a stronger-than-expected debut, Wahlberg’s action hit Contraband fell an understandable 50% thanks in part to all the new action competition to an estimated $12.2M. The $25M production has now banked $46.1M in ten days and looks headed for a finish in the neighborhood of $70M.

The 9/11 drama Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close starring Tom Hanks and Sandra Bullock expanded into national release after a month of limited play and landed in fourth with a so-so performance. Warner Bros. saw a weekend estimate of $10.5M from 2,630 locations for a decent $4,010 average. Close is hoping for a Best Picture nod from the Academy this Tuesday in order to keep it relevant at the box office, but so far it has not been a consistent part of the awards conversation. The Oscar-winning stars could give it some extra love from Academy members, though. Cume to date is $11.2M.

Steven Soderbergh’s newest film Haywire also opened to moderate results bowing to an estimated $9M from 2,439 sites for a $3,690 average. The R-rated espionage thriller marked the debut of Gina Carano, a female Mixed Martial Arts champion, who anchored the film alongside male co-stars like Ewan McGregor, Channing Tatum, Michael Fassbender, Michael Douglas, and Antonio Banderas. Budgeted at $23M, the well-reviewed film earned good marks from critics but was panned by audiences polled by CinemaScore earning a dismal D+ grade. Studio research showed that the audience was 55% male, 64% under 35, and 54% non-white. With so many action options for moviegoers and an untested star in the lead, Haywire carved out a slice of the pie that was mostly in line with industry expectations.

Sunday’s big football playoff games are expected to cut into box office sales for action titles and distributors incorporated that into weekend estimates in their own ways. Projected Saturday-to-Sunday declines include 44% for Underworld: Awakening, 49% for Red Tails, 53% for Contraband, and 40% for Haywire.

Disney’s 3D re-release of Beauty and the Beast tumbled 52% in its second weekend to an estimated $8.6M giving the studio $33.4M to date. It was a large decline given that no new kids movies opened. The studio’s last 3D upgrade on The Lion King fell only 27% in its sophomore session despite facing new competition for families. Warner Bros. saw a moderate 46% decline for its musical dramedy Joyful Noise which grossed an estimated $6.1M lifting the cume to $21.9M after ten days.

December franchise holdovers rounded out the top ten. Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol took in an estimated $5.5M, off 53%, for a $197.3M total. Paramount’s overseas tally rose to a muscular $336.7M with the global tally reaching a towering $534M for the Tom Cruise sequel. The Robert Downey Jr. sequel Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows dropped 44% to an estimated $4.8M putting Warner Bros. at $178.6M. Sliding 44% was Sony’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo to an estimated $3.8M for a $94.8M sum to date. International business climbed to $70.8M after a $15.7M frame putting the global gross at $165.5M.

Oscar front-runner The Artist tripled its theater count and saw sales double as it established itself in wider release to reach a broader audience. The Weinstein Co. title grossed an estimated $2.4M from 662 locations (up from 216) averaging a mediocre $3,579. With $12.1M to date, the acclaimed silent film has won the Golden Globe for Best Comedy/Musical and on Saturday took home the coveted PGA award which is a very accurate indicator of the favorite at the Academy Awards. The last four PGA winners went on to win Best Picture at the Oscars.

The top ten films grossed an estimated $105M which was up a sharp 26% from last year when No Strings Attached opened in the top spot with $19.7M; but down 13% from 2010 when Avatar remained at number one with $34.9M in its sixth frame.

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