Love story "The Vow" won the hearts of moviegoers with $51.4 million in global ticket sales over a pre-Valentine's Day weekend that featured stronger-than-expected performances from three new releases.
"The Vow," starring Rachel McAdams and Channing Tatum, took in $41.7 million at U.S. and Canadian theaters from Friday through Sunday in the biggest domestic opening so far this year, according to studio estimates compiled by Reuters on Sunday. Twenty international markets added $9.7 million, bringing the global total to $51.4 million.
Action movie "Safe House" featuring Denzel Washington and Ryan Reynolds took second place with an estimated $39.3 million domestically plus $10.2 million from 25 international markets. The worldwide total stood at $49.5 million.
The studios had projected domestic openings in the $20 million range for each of the top two finishers. To the surprise of industry executives, four movies topped $20 million each. That lifted the domestic weekend total for all films 29.3 percent higher than the same weekend last year, according to the box office division of Hollywood.com.
After the 2011 domestic box office ended with sales down 3.4 percent and attendance at a 16-year low, the early weeks of 2012 have produced a comeback.
So far this year, North American (U.S. and Canadian) ticket sales are running 19 percent ahead of the same point in 2011. A range of options has helped boost sales, said Paul Dergarabedian, president of Hollywood.com's box office division.
This weekend in particular offered a variety of films "that chased different audiences with each successfully drawing the targeted demographic, and the result was huge," he said. Sales for all films totalled $193 million.
"The Vow" was inspired by the real-life story of a husband who must win over his wife a second time after a car crash erases her memory of him. The movie was released this weekend to draw in couples ahead of Valentine's Day, said Rory Bruer, president of worldwide distribution for distributor Sony Pictures. The film cost about $30 million to make.
"We grossed what it cost to make the film in the first two days. It's really a fantastic result," Bruer said.
The movie features Washington as a rogue CIA agent who shows up at the U.S. Embassy in South Africa. Reynolds plays a rookie operative who must bring him in. "People are back in the moviegoing mode" and audiences liked Washington in an "action antagonist role," said Nikki Rocco, president of distribution for Universal Pictures.
The movie has brought in $74.7 million from international markets after opening in late January, bringing the global haul to $102.3 million. The 3D follow-up to 2008's "Journey to the Center of the Earth" cost $79 million to make.
The movie tells the story of a man leading his stepson, a helicopter pilot and his daughter on a rescue mission set on an unusual island. "We dominated the family business," said Dan Fellman, head of domestic distribution for Warner Bros.
'STAR WARS' STRIKES AGAIN
Families also turned out for a 3D remake of 1999's "Star Wars: Episode 1 - The Phantom Menace," which took fourth place domestically with $23.0 million. Distributor 20th Century Fox had hoped the film that tells the story of a young Anakin Skywalker, the boy who becomes Darth Vader, would bring in $20 million or more.
Sales in international markets hit $20.5 million, bringing the movie's weekend total to $43.5 million around the globe.
Last weekend's domestic winner, thriller "Chronicle" about three boys with superpowers, slipped to fifth place with $12.3 million.
The movie division of Sony Corp released "The Vow." "Safe House" was released by Universal Pictures, a division of Comcast Corp. News Corp unit 20th Century Fox distributed "Star Wars" and "Chronicle."Time Warner Inc unit Warner Bros. released "Journey 2."