Wow. Just wow. Four major releases debuted this weekend and every single one of them opened with superb numbers. On one hand, that means that every respective demographic was ably served this weekend. On the other hand, one can only wonder how much cash was sacrificed by opening these four movies on the same weekend. Anyway, the top film of the weekend was the Rachel McAdams/Channing Tatum romantic drama The Vow. The $30 million Screen Gems drama, which by the way is NOT based on a Nicholas Sparks novel (it's a true story), debuted with an eye-popping $41 million, a record for the studio. That's well-over $10 million more than the $30.4 million debut of Dear John, which was the previous record-holder for an opening weekend for a pure romantic drama. The film played 55 percent under-25 years old and 72 percent female. Obviously everything clicked on the marketing for this one, and Channing Tatum is now the official king of the romantic drama, having headlined the first one to open with more than $30 million and now the first one to open with over $40 million, while Rachel McAdams is the queen, now holding the first and fourth-biggest opening weekend for an unfiltered romantic drama ($18 million for The Time Traveler's Wife). Where it goes from here is an open question, as Dear John did not have the strongest legs, topping out at $80 million (or just below the $81 million gross of Rachel McAdams' The Notebook). On the plus side, The Vow doesn't have the same-demo blockbuster Valentine's Day nipping on its heals like Dear John did. Plus, even if The Vow has the same quick-kill performance (2.6x weekend-to-final multiplier), it will become the first pure romantic drama (no explosions, no action scenes, no mass-disaster in the third act) to cross $100 million since Jerry McGuire in 1996.
The second major opener was the Denzel Washington/Ryan Reynolds thriller Safe House. The R-rated film opened with $39 million, which is one of the biggest non-sequel/non-animated openings in Universal Studios history. This is Denzel Washington's second-biggest opening, behind the $43 million debut of Universal's American Gangster (which also starred Russell Crowe) while it's Reynold's third-biggest debut, behind Green Lantern ($52 million) and his glorified cameo as Deadpool in X-Men Origins: Wolverine ($85 million). The ads sold this one as a CIA-ops variation on Training Day, with rogue and uber-cool special agent Washington 'schooling' rookie Reynolds while engaged in a painfully generic action/thriller narrative (this is not among Washington's better thrillers, folks). Washington has made a string of old-school, adult-skewing thrillers over the last 10 years or so, and this picture is right in his comfort zone (essay). The biggest debut as a by-himself lead was The Book of Eli, which debuted with $31 million two years ago, so how much of that extra $8 million you want to credit Ryan Reynolds is up to you (I'd say enough to keep his agent's phone ringing). Still, in an era when the modern movie star is an endangered species, Washington is among the last of his breed, a 'put my face on the poster and they will flock' box office draw. The picture played 62 percent over the age of 30 and 50 percent female. In terms of racial demos, it played 38 percent African American, 31 percent Caucasian, and 23 percent Hispanic. If it has even the relative legs of The Book of Eli (three times its opening weekend), it will end up with $118 million and become Washington's second-biggest domestic grosser (American Gangster grossed $130 million).
Opening in third place was the second entry in the ongoing series of 'add The Rock to your ongoing franchise and watch your grosses go up!' (following Fast Five and proceeding this summer's GI Joe: Retribution). Journey 2: The Mysterious Island is a very loose sequel to the 2008 3D-ground breaker Journey to the Center of the Earth, which Brendan Fraser powered to $101 million domestic off a $21 million debut and $140 million overseas. Journey 2 opened with a robust $27 million, as it played like an old-fashioned family film (i.e., it went WAY up on Saturday). The film had already grossed just under $50 million overseas prior to this debut, so it's well on its way to eclipsing the $241 million worldwide total of the first film. Still, the idea of a live-action 3D fantasy film isn't quite as novel as it was in the summer of 2008 (Journey to the Center of the Earth was literary the first modern live-action 3D picture, although Spy Kids 3 did the old-school red/blue 3D back in 2003). Also, Journey 2 cost $79 million, versus the first film's relatively meager $45 million budget, so it will have to perform better if it wants a similar profit margin. Nonetheless, a win is a win. If G.I. Joe: Retaliation significantly improves on G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra this summer, expect Dwayne Johnson to be shoe-horned into every ailing/rebooted franchise around. Coming soon -- The Rock in Chronicles of Narnia: The Silver Chair, Saw 8, and Bridget Jones's Diary 3!
The last major opener was the 3D-converted re-release of Star Wars Episode One: The Phantom Menace (retrospective essay), which debuted with a solid $23 million, bringing the overall domestic total to $454 million. This is the first of what is to be annual re-releases of George Lucas's six Star Wars films starting this year (the 35th anniversary of Star Wars) and ending with Return of the Jedi in 2017 (the 40th anniversary). Whether you like the prequels or not, this was a chance for the generation who grew up with Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones, and Revenge of the Sith to see those films again on the big screen, just as our generation feasted on the now-infamous 'special editions' of the original trilogy back in 1997. No one should have been expecting anything approaching the $35 million debut of Star Wars: Special Edition back in 1997 (about $47 million adjusted for inflation), as the marketplace has changed in the last 15 years. In a pre-DVD era, that was the first-ever opportunity for many younger fans to see the films in widescreen or on a screen larger than 25 inches. In today's DVD/Blu-Ray and 60-inch LCD world, it's actually pretty impressive that this 3D-converted version actually opened larger than the 1997 releases of The Empire Strikes Back ($22 million) and Return of the Jedi ($16 million). At the very least, it's good to see technical pros like Lucas and Cameron (Titanic 3D drops in early April) showing us how a real 3D-conversion is supposed to look. Even if the six movies top out at $50 million respectively, that's still $300 million domestic and at least that overseas over the next six years. And since Lucas has signed that 'Giving Pledge', at least one-quarter of that money (depending on the studio/distributor/theater chain split) will be going to various charities.
For thoughts on holdovers, including the unfortunate cost of having three to five new releases every week, as well as a preview of next weekend's lineup, go to Mendelson's Memos.