LOS ANGELES - Melissa McCarthy stole the show at the box office this weekend, proving she has the star power to attract moviegoers to theaters even during a blizzard.
"Identity Thief," her comedy co-starring Jason Bateman, easily ran away with the weekend's No. 1 spot as it debuted with a robust $36.6 million, according to an estimate from distributor Universal Pictures.
That was far more than the weekend's only other nationwide opener, "Side Effects," started off with. The Steven Soderbergh-directed thriller - which the filmmaker has said is his last movie to hit the big screen - took in an underwhelming $10 million on its first weekend in theaters.
Despite industry concerns that a huge winter storm would keep East Coasters away from the box office, "Identity Thief" took in about $10 million more on its opening weekend than pre-release audience polling had suggested. That's the biggest opening of the year thus far, beating Universal's "Mama," the horror film that debuted with $28.4 million in January.
Overall, however, ticket sales declined a major 45 percent compared with the same three-day period last year, when Valentine's Day-related movies opened over the weekend.
In "Identity Thief," McCarthy stars as a gregarious criminal who steals the credit card information of a man played by Bateman. Though critics loathed the picture - the New York Observer's Rex Reed even snarked about McCarthy's weight in his review - moviegoers didn't share that opinion. The weekend crowd - 57 percent of whom were over 30 - assigned it an average grade of B, according to market research firm CinemaScore.
"Side Effects," meanwhile, also received a B CinemaScore from moviegoers, even though critics were enamored with the picture. The movie centers on a psychologist (Jude Law) who struggles to find the right medication to treat a depressed patient (Rooney Mara). It attracted a heavily older crowd, as 85 percent of those who saw it over the weekend were over the age of 25.
In limited release, Paramount Pictures offered a 3-D version of its 1986 Tom Cruise flick "Top Gun" to help promote the film's Blu-Ray opening this month. It collected $1.9 million from 300 screens for a so-so per-theater average of $6,700.
Another film playing in only a handful of theaters, "Lost in Thailand," also failed to debut with a splash. AMC released the Chinese-language film - which grossed $201 million in China last year, more than any other movie in the country - in 29 theaters. "The Hangover"-esque film collected only $29,143.