LOS ANGELES — Moviegoers readily committed to “The Vow” this weekend, as the romantic drama posted the biggest opening of the year.
The tear-jerker starring Channing Tatum and Rachel McAdams collected an impressive $41.7 million, according to an estimate from distributor Sony Pictures. The action thriller “Safe House” also far exceeded industry expectations, starting off with a strong $39.3 million, as did the sequel “Journey 2: The Mysterious Island,” with its gross of $27.6 million.
Meanwhile, a 3-D re-release of “Star Wars: Episode I — The Phantom Menace” took in a respectable $23 million.
It was the first time that four films each opened with well more than $20 million in domestic ticket sales on a nonholiday weekend. As a result of the robust receipts, weekend sales were up 29 percent compared with the same period in 2011.
“The Vow” opened well above Tatum’s last romantic picture, “Dear John,” a movie based on a novel by Nicholas Sparks that opened with $30.5 million around Valentine’s Day in 2010. That picture, also from Screen Gems, was previously the film label’s biggest opening ever — a record “The Vow” shattered this weekend.
Financed by Spyglass Entertainment and Screen Gems for about $30 million, “The Vow” is about a woman trying to fall in love with her husband again after suffering amnesia due to a car crash. Audiences liked it, giving it an average grade of B, according to market research firm CinemaScore. (Moviegoers responded more positively to “Safe House” and the 3-D “Journey 2,” which each earned an A-minus.)
The movie appealed mostly to women, as an overwhelming 72 percent of the audience was female. It helps that one of the film’s stars is a heartthrob; young women have been buzzing about Tatum online for weeks.
“I think you have to give him huge props for this opening,” said Rory Bruer, Sony’s distribution president. “Any scenario I’ve ever been in where he’s present — it’s crazy. He’s just one of those guys that women love.”
“Safe House” marks the second-highest opening ever for star Denzel Washington, behind his 2007 hit “American Gangster,” which launched with $43.6 million. In the 57-year-old actor’s latest film, which also stars Ryan Reynolds, Washington plays a rebellious CIA agent who heads to South Africa on a mission.
“We all need to pay attention to the fact that Denzel is still a guy that can open a movie — and with Ryan Reynolds, you get a one-two punch,” said Nikki Rocco, president of domestic distribution for Universal Pictures, which financed the picture along with Relativity Media for around $85 million. “When Denzel plays the antagonist, he’s in his niche.”
The movie attracted a slightly older crowd, 62 percent of whom were over the age of 30. It was also a diverse crowd, with 38 percent black, 31 percent white and 23 percent Latino.
A sequel to 2008’s “Journey to the Center of the Earth,” the second “Journey” was produced by Warner Bros.’ New Line division for about $79 million. The original opened with $21 million and ultimately brought in about $100 domestically and $140 million overseas.
In “Journey 2,” Dwayne Johnson replaced actor Brendan Fraser as the franchise’s lead star. (Fraser dropped out of the sequel in 2010 because it was not being directed by the filmmaker behind the original, Eric Brevig.) Apparently, that was good for New Line, as 45 percent of those who saw the film this weekend said Johnson was the No. 1 reason they chose to attend.
The movie — about a stepfather (Johnson) who goes on an adventure to try to find a secret island with his son (“The Hunger Games” star Josh Hutcherson) — did well on 3-D screens. Of those who saw the picture, 74 percent opted to do so in 3-D.
It was a good weekend for 3-D films, as audiences proved they’re still willing to shell out a few extra bucks to see movies in the pricier format. 20th Century Fox and Lucasfilm’s updated version of “Star Wars: Episode I” is the latest 3-D re-release to fare well at the box office, following the success Walt Disney Studios had recently reissuing two of its classic animated titles in 3-D.
Filmmaker George Lucas has converted six “Star Wars” films in 3-D and hopes to release them in episode order, though Fox said on Sunday that no release plans for the next installment were official yet.
Of the four films that opened this weekend domestically, “Journey 2” is doing the most robust business overseas. The film has been playing internationally for about a month, and this weekend collected $25.5 million, bringing its tally abroad to $74.7 million. This weekend, the film opened in China and performed well there, grossing an estimated $9.5 million.