- "Underworld Awakening" debuted in first place with $25.4 million
- "Red Tails" took off with $19.1 million in its first three days
- "Contraband" dipped by 50 percent down to $12.1 million
(EW.com) -- 2012 continued its box office winning streak this weekend, as Kate Beckinsale replaced herself at the top of the chart.
Her new movie, "Underworld Awakening," a 3D fourth installment of the popular vampires vs. werewolves franchise, debuted in first place with $25.4 million, good for a $8,252 per theater average. "Awakening" improved upon the opening weekend of its predecessor, 2009′s "Underworld: Rise of the Lycans," which started with $20.8 million (and did not feature Beckinsale), but fell short of 2006′s "Underworld: Evolution," which kicked off its run with $26.9 million. Sony/Screen Gems paid $70 million to make the 3D action film, but if past "Underworld" performances are any indication, "Awakening," which earned an "A-" CinemaScore grade, will have trouble recouping its costs.
The first "Underworld" earned 2.5 times its opening weekend (that's known as a mulitplier of 2.5) and finished with $51.8 million. The second notched a 2.4 multiplier and earned $62.3 million. The third only managed a 2.3 multiplier, a sure sign of sequel fatigue and frontloadedness, and grossed $45.8 million. With Kate Beckinsale back in the picture, "Awakening" may find a larger total than "Lycans," but with a very young audience (only 7 percent were 50 or older), it should continue the frontloaded trend and finish with about $56 million.
In second place, George Lucas' passion-project "Red Tails," a $58 million film starring Terrence Howard and Cuba Gooding Jr. that chronicles WWII's African-American Tuskegee airmen, took off with $19.1 million in its first three days. The strong debut came out of 2,512 theaters, which gave "Red Tails" a hefty $7,604 per theater average, the second-best in the Top 20. A few weeks ago, these high-flying numbers seemed unlikely. But in the week leading up to release, the film gained momentum.
Over the past few days, YouTube views for the trailer swelled, perhaps thanks to Tyler Perry's public endorsement of the film. In a newsletter to his fans dated January 17, Perry urged audiences to see "Red Tails." "I think we should pull together and get behind this movie," he wrote. "Not just African Americans, but all of us." Of course, that's not to undermine Fox's marketing team, which clearly did its job and brought in a broad range of ages.
Many films that play primarily to African American audiences (or really, any niche audience) drop quickly in their second week -- Perry's last three "Madea" films have fallen by an average of 60 percent in their second weekends -- but "Red Tails" may avoid a similar fate. The film increased by a whopping 40 percent from Friday to Saturday, a healthy sign that the film is playing well with families and shouldn't prove overly frontloaded. Furthermore, audiences enjoyed the film, issuing it an "A" CinemaScore grade, which will likely help it endure. Who knows where the film will end its flight, but after three days of results, "Red Tails" seems early in its ascent.
Kate Beckinsale's other current release, "Contraband," which topped the box office last week, dipped by 50 percent down to $12.1 million, giving the $25 million Mark Wahlberg action vehicle a sturdy $46.1 million ten-day total. It should finish in the $65 million range.
"Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close" fared about as expected during its wide release into 2,630 theaters. The 9/11 drama, adapted from Jonathan Safran Foer's novel of the same name, found a lukewarm $10.5 million this weekend, yielding a mild $4,010 per theater average. Audiences generally liked the Warner Bros. picture, giving it an "A-" CinemaScore grade, but unless "Extremely Loud" garners a surprising slew of Oscar nominations next week, it's doubtful that the film will climb to impressive numbers. In 2006, another 9/11-themed film, "United 93," opened with a similar $11.5 million, and despite good reviews (much better than "Extremely Loud's," in fact), it only found $31.5 million overall. A similar result seems likely in this case.
Is Sandra Bullock the latest performer to fall prey to the Best Actress Curse? As the legend goes, after an actress wins the coveted Oscar -- Bullock won in 2010 for her role in "The Blind Side" -- her box office appeal actually decreases. Look at someone like Charlize Theron. Since winning the Oscar in 2004, she has appeared in exactly one hit -- "Hancock," a movie which all but ignored her in its ads --and among her other nine releases, the highest-grossing one is, sadly, "Aeon Flux" with $25.9 million.
I'm not going to put too much faith in the curse, but "Extremely Loud" does mark Bullock's least-attended nationwide debut in 15 years. And for Hanks, the film is his second straight misfire since "Larry Crowne," which had to settle for $35.6 million. Difficult subject matter likely kept many audiences at bay.
Steven Soderbergh's "Haywire" started its run in fifth place, pulling in $9 million. The film, which features former MMA fighter Gina Carano, earned a dismal "D+" CinemaScore grade, despite strong critical reviews overall. (Another well reviewed action film, "Drive," earned a similarly unenthusiastic "C-" grade a few months back.) Relativity shelled out $23 million on the film, but "Haywire" will have to work hard to earn that number back at the box office. (Also, let's please ignore the inevitable discussion of whether women can open action movies at the box office and look at this week's number one film. Cool?)
Further down the chart, "The Artist," which expanded from 216 theaters into 662 theaters (that's a 300+ percent uptick in locations) on the heels of its Golden Globe win for Best Picture, increased by a rather disappointing 99 percent. After nine weeks, tons of awards, and a whole lot of press, the black-and-white film has earned $12.1 million against a $15 million budget. Perhaps people just don't want to see a silent movie.
"The Descendants," meanwhile, is faring much better during awards season. Following George Clooney's Best Actor win at the Globes, the drama increased 17 percent to $2.5 million, despite losing 100 locations, and has grossed $51.3 million.
Oh, and a little movie called "The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn -- Part 1" surpassed the $700 million mark worldwide as well. The vampire franchise has proven remarkably consistent.
1. Underworld Awakening -- $25.4 million
2. Red Tails -- $19.1 million
3. Contraband -- $12.2 million
4. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close -- $10.5 million
5. Haywire -- $9.0 million
6. Beauty and the Beast 3D -- $8.6 million
7. Joyful Noise -- $6.1 million
8. Mission: Impossible -- Ghost Protocol -- $5.5 million
9. Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows -- $4.8 million
10. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo -- $3.8 million
CLICK HERE to Try 2 RISK FREE issues of Entertainment Weekly
© 2011 Entertainment Weekly and Time Inc. All rights reserved.