The second major opener was the Denzel Washington/Ryan Reynolds thriller Safe House. The R-rated film opened with $40 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 ten 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% over the age of 30 and 50% female. In terms of racial demos, it played 38% African American, 31% Caucasian, and 23% Hispanic. If it has even the relative legs of The Book of Eli (3x 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 (IE - 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". In today's DVD/Blu-Ray and 60" 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 1/4 of that money (depending on the studio/distributor/theater chain split) will be going to various charities.
There isn't much holdover news, as the massive influx of new releases caused some large drops across the board, spurred both by the appeal of new product and inevitable screen losses to compensate for the four new films. Even The Artist ($24 million), on the verge of several major Oscar wins, is losing 200 screens as even popular films like The Grey ($42 million) loses 400 screens in just its third weekend and Underworld: Awakenings ($58 million) and Red Tails ($45 million) lose nearly 1,000 and 800 screens in their respective fourth weekends. Point being, there is a cost for the sheer volume of new product week-in and week-out. There is almost no opportunity for real legs and casual/general moviegoers no longer have the option of seeing new releases at their convenience, fostering a 'see it now or don't see it at all' environment. So when I say that Chronicle (now with $40 million), The Woman In Black ($35 million), and Big Miracle ($13 million) dropped 44%, 50%, and 49% respectively in their second weekends, it's as much to due with the flood of new product as it is with the respective popularity of last weekend's openers. Thus, the three drops are even more impressive when you factor in the competition (although Miracle is a tank by virtue of its small numbers overall). It will be interesting to see how leggy the late-February/early-March releases are when you realize that there are only nine new wide releases in the entire month of March (21 Jump Street and likely juggernaut The Hunger Games open unopposed on the 16th and 23rd).
That's it for this weekend. Join us over Presidents' Day weekend when Fox unveils the Reese Witherspoon/Chris Pine/Tom Hardy action-romcom This Means War, Sony attempts to revive Nicolas Cage's Ghost Rider franchise with Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance and Disney releases an English-dubbed animated fable from Studio Ghibli (founded by, among others, Hayao Miyazaki) onto an uncommonly wide 1,300 theaters with The Secret World of Arrietty. Until then, take care, keep reading, and share your thoughts below.