Few predicted that "Contraband" would do better than $20 or $21 million. Wahlberg's last few action movies have opened in the mid teens, and the testosterone crowd was expected to stay home this weekend and watch the NFL playoffs. Nonetheless, the movie fit a critic-proof formula (which was good, given the its lackluster reviews), and it marked the first new action fare since "Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol" opened last month.
Many had expected "Beauty and the Beast" to win the weekend, after the smashing success of the 3D re-release of "The Lion King" last fall. Instead, the movie opened in second place with a respectable $18.5 million, according to studio estimates. Add that to the movie's grosses upon its initial release 20 years ago, and the movie boasts a total domestic take of $189.8 million.
"Mission: Impossible" finished in third place with an estimated $11.5 million, down 42 percent from last weekend. That's a modest drop for a movie that's five weeks old. Its total to date is $186.7 million.
Opening in fourth place was "Joyful Noise," the Dolly Parton-Queen Latifah gospel music tale. Despite the movie's appeal to Christian audiences, pundits didn't imagine there'd be a whole lot of viewers who are fans of both Parton and Latifah, so predictions were modest, in the $12 to $15 million range. The movie ended up opening at the bottom of that range, with an estimated $11.3 million.
Rounding out the top five, "Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows" earned another estimated $8.4 million, down 39 percent from last week. Its five-week total is $170.0 million.
Breaking into the top 10 at No. 10 was Oscar hopeful "The Iron Lady," which expanded from five screens to 802 and took in an estimated $5.4 million. That's a per-screen average of $6,716, better than that of any wide release movie this weekend except "Contraband" and "Beauty and the Beast." In three weeks, the Margaret Thatcher biopic has earned just shy of $6 million.
The weekend's other notable new release was "We Need to Talk About Kevin," the indie drama earning Oscar buzz for Tilda Swinton as the mother of a teenage killer. It earned an estimated $22,000 per screen on two screens. After its brief awards-qualifying run last month, its total to date is $83,300.
Total box office for the year to date is estimated at $450.6 million, up from $408.3 million at this time in 2011. After just two weeks, 2012 is already 10.4 percent ahead of last year.
The full top 10: 1. "Contraband," $24.1 million (2,863 screens), new release 2. "Beauty and the Beast," $18.5 million (2,625), new release 3. "Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol," $11.5 million (3,346), $186.7 million total 4. "Joyful Noise," $11.3 million (2,735), new release 5. "Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows," $8.4 million (3,155), $170.0 million 6. "The Devil Inside," $7.9 million (2,551 screens), $46.2 million 7. "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo," $6.8 million (2,674), $88.0 million 8. "Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked," $5.8 million (2,849), $118.8 million 9. "War Horse," $5.6 million (2,856), $65.8 million 10. "The Iron Lady," $5.4 million (802), $6.0 million