'Identity Thief' steals the top spot at box office

Jason Bateman and Melissa McCarthy attend the world premiere of 'Identity Thief' at the Mann Village Westwood, Monday, Feb. 4, 2013, in Los Angeles. (Photo by Todd Williamson/Invision/AP Images)

Jason Bateman and Melissa McCarthy attend the world premiere of "Identity Thief" at the Mann Village Westwood, Monday, Feb. 4, 2013, in Los Angeles. (Photo by Todd Williamson/Invision/AP Images)

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.

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