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'Safe House', 'The Vow' beat out new 'Ghost Rider'

Published:Monday | February 20, 2012 | 12:00 AM

LOS ANGELES (AP):

The President's Day holiday weekend box office was too close to call as the action tale Safe House and the love story, The Vow, competed for the No. 1 spot.

Based on yesterday's studio estimates, Denzel Washington and Ryan Reynolds' Safe House had a slim lead with $24 million from Friday to Sunday. That put it a fraction ahead of Rachel McAdams and Channing Tatum's The Vow with US$23.6 million.

The winner won't be known for certain until Tuesday, when studios will report final numbers for the long holiday weekend. Final numbers often vary from weekend projections, which include estimates for the size of Sunday's audiences.

No matter which one finishes on top, the movie business remains unusually brisk for winter, typically a slow season at theatres. The business uptick comes after Hollywood lumbered through a humdrum holiday season at the end of last year, when audiences were apathetic about most new releases.

"I still think people don't want to stay home, and if you give them good choices, you get them out," said Nikki Rocco, head of distribution for Universal Pictures, which released Safe House.

Top-five movies

The top-five movies were bunched up tightly, with Nicolas Cage's sequel Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance, opening a close No. 3 with US$22 million.

Dwayne Johnson's family action tale Journey 2: The Mysterious Island was No. 4 with US$20.1 million. Reese Witherspoon's love-triangle comedy, This Means War, debuted at No. 5 with US$17.6 million.

Starring Washington as a CIA traitor on the run, Safe House raised its domestic total to US$78.2 million. Sony Screen Gems' The Vow, which features McAdams as an amnesiac car-accident victim becoming reacquainted with her husband (Tatum), lifted its total to US$85.5 million.

While Safe House and The Vow held up well, Sony's Ghost Rider follow-up came in below industry expectations, doing a bit less than half the US$45 million the first one pulled in with its 2007 debut.

In Spirit of Vengeance, Cage reprises his Marvel Comics role as Satan's bounty hunter, this time trying to save a child from the devil.

Released by Warner Bros., Journey 2 is a modern take on Jules Verne's The Mysterious Island. It padded its total to US$53.2 million.

In 20th Century Fox's This Means War, Witherspoon plays a woman who captures the hearts of two CIA agents (Chris Pine and Tom Hardy), the spy guys going from best pals to rivals as they pursue her.

narrower release

Disney's English-language version of the Japanese animated hit The Secret World of Arrietty opened in narrower release and came in at No. 9 with US$6.4 million. Based on Mary Norton's children's novel The Borrowers about tiny people living beneath the floorboards of a house, the film features a voice cast that includes Carol Burnett, Amy Poehler and Will Arnett.

The weekend's overall domestic revenues totalled US$160 million, up 10.7 per cent from the same weekend last year, when Unknown led with a US$21.9 million debut, according to box-office tracker Hollywood.com.

So far this year, revenues have soared to US$1.42 billion, a 19 per cent increase from 2011's receipts.

"Every weekend this year has been up vs. the comparable weekend a year ago, so Hollywood is definitely on a roll right now," said Hollywood.com analyst Paul Dergarabedian.

Here are the estimated ticket sales for Friday through Sunday at US and Canadian theatres, according to Hollywood.com. Where available, latest international numbers are also included. Final domestic figures will be released Tuesday.

1. Safe House, US$24 million (US$6 million international).

2. The Vow, $23.6 million ($6.8 million international).

3. Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance, $22 million.

4. Journey 2: The Mysterious Island, $20.1 million.

5. This Means War, $17.6 million.

6. Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace in 3-D, US$7.9 million.

7. Chronicle, US$7.5 million.

8. The Woman in Black, US$6.6 million.

9. The Secret World of Arrietty, US$6.4 million.

10. The Grey, US$3 million.