Underworld Awakening had no trouble topping a crowded field of new or expanding releases this weekend. Nine years after the action-horror series launched, Underworld 4 took in an estimated $25.4 million from 3,078 locations for the second-highest opening weekend in the franchise’s history. Red Tails also had reason to be happy with its second-place showing while returns for the week’s three other highly-touted features were more modest.
|4||Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close||$10,545,000||$11.2|
|6||Beauty & the Beast 3D||$8,556,000||$33.3|
|8||Mission: Impossible 4||$5,540,000||$197.3|
|10||The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo||$3,750,000||$94.7|
On the post-MLK holiday frame one year ago, we had only one major new release to talk about – No Strings Attached. The latter took first place with $19.6 million which, at the time, was seen as a big opening during what is typically a not-so lucrative month. But this January all that has changed. Not only have studios continued to release title after title, but many of those have had debuts that make the low grosses of last January seem like a bad dream. Naturally, with so many choices out there, not every movie can score with audiences; but with grosses topping 2011 for the third week in a row, the business itself is the real winner.
Starting from the top, Underworld Awakening held off a projected challenge from WWII drama Red Tails to take first place by a comfortable margin. Since the first Underworld debuted in September 2003, the sequels have all called January home (perhaps because incredibly binding leather is the ideal apparel for cold weather months?) In 2006 the series saw its biggest opening of $26.8 million for Underworld: Evolution. Three years later, Underworld: Rise of the Lycans was down to $20.8 million, though that was without star Kate Beckinsale. Becks was back for part four, however; an installment which also featured 3D and IMAX screenings in a franchise first. It’s too early to know how much of the film’s first weekend came from those higher-priced formats but it is safe to say that, taking that detail into consideration, Underworld Awakening appears a little less ascendant.
Speaking of ascending, by the end of last week tracking indicated that Red Tails had a chance of taking the top spot this weekend. That didn’t happen, though it would have provided a great vindication for the filmmakers if it had. Fans of George Lucas are probably familiar with the saga of Red Tails – the story of WWII’s legendary Tuskegee Airmen which Lucas began developing in 1988. With studios hesitant to finance a film with an all-black cast (according to Lucas), the director used his own money to get the film to the screen. So how’d that work out? From 2,512 (all 2D) locations, Red Tails earned an estimated $19.1 million. That’s well above the $15 million that many expected though less than recent Tyler Perry features have commanded on their openings. The real test for Red Tails comes next weekend when we see how front-loaded these grosses are.
First among this weekend’s films that fell short of expectations was the drama Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close. Starring Tom Hanks and Sandra Bullock and aggressively marketed as the must-see movie of 2012, the film earned $10.5 million on its first weekend in wide release in 2,630 locations. Fortunes for Extremely Loud could improve if the film finds itself with an Oscar nomination. On the other hand, awards-buzz had no noticeable effect on the bottom-line of another Oscar hopeful, The Artist. On the heels of its Golden Globe win, the silent film expanded into 662 venues this weekend where it did appropriately quiet business of $2.3 million.
Last among this week’s new releases was Haywire with $9 million from 2,439 locations. Thanks in part to a disastrous Cinemascore of “D+”, Relativity set its expectations for the Steven Soderbergh action film at a very low $8 million. Haywire was able to top that and critics have been more generous to the film (82% on Rotten Tomatoes); but in this crowded field it’s what audiences think that counts and, so far, it looks like audiences are not going to let Haywire stick around for much longer.
That’s because 2012’s January bounty continues next weekend as The Grey and One For the Money debut and The Descendants expands. Should The Grey come out on top (and after the amount of press Liam Neeson has done for the film, I certainly hope that it does) that would make four weeks in a row that an R-rated movie has held the top spot at the box office. I’m not sure when that last happened but I’ll definitely have that covered by next week…