LOS ANGELES — An unexpectedly large number of moviegoers took shelter at “Safe Haven” this weekend, nearly leaving “A Good Day to Die Hard” exposed.
The fifth installment in the Bruce Willis action franchise narrowly won the holiday weekend at the box office, but came in well below industry expectations. The latest Nicholas Sparks tear jerker had the opposite fate, selling far more tickets than projected, and the Melissa McCarthy comedy holdover “Identity Thief” also proved to be a more fearsome rival than initially thought.
“A Good Day to Die Hard” was barely able to steal No. 1 from “Identity Thief,” collecting a so-so $24.8 million over the weekend and $37.5 million in all since debuting late Wednesday, according to estimates from distributor 20th Century Fox. After its robust opening last weekend, the R-rated “Identity Thief” saw its ticket sales tumble only 32 percent, to $23.4 million, raising its overall total to $75.2 million.
“Safe Haven,” meanwhile, which hit theaters on Valentine’s Day, was supposed to make only around $25 million, but it ended up pocketing a surprisingly strong $34 million over the five-day period.
“Safe Haven” was critically panned, but that didn’t matter to couples looking for a romantic movie to see on Valentine’s Day. The film, about a young woman (Julianne Hough) who finds refuge from an abusive relationship with a widower (Josh Duhamel) in a quiet North Carolina town, cost Relativity Media about $28 million to produce.
Although the Hough-Duhamel film couldn’t top Sparks’ February 2010 hit “Dear John,” his eighth Hollywood adaptation will be yet another success story for the novelist. As expected, his latest movie did well largely because of the young women who flocked to see it: 71 percent of the opening weekend crowd was female, and 68 percent of the audience was under age 25.
“Nicholas Sparks definitely has a connection with that audience — he’s got the secret formula,” said Kyle Davies, Relativity’s president of theatrical distribution, noting that the film did especially well in the heartland, in cities such as St. Louis, Oklahoma City and Nashville, Tenn.
Heading into the weekend, pre-release audience polling suggested that “A Good Day to Die Hard” would gross as much as $55 million in its first five days in theaters — though Fox predicted that the movie would collect a softer sum of around $40 million during that time period.
The animated 3-D kids movie “Escape From Planet Earth,” meanwhile, sold a solid $21 million worth of tickets since its Friday debut. The weekend’s remaining new release, “Beautiful Creatures,” flopped. It was expected that the supernatural romance would gross upward of $20 million between Thursday and Monday; instead, the movie collected just $11.5 million.
Overall, ticket sales were down 10 percent to $140 million compared with the same three-day period last year, according to Hollywood.com, which compiles box office data. The weekend also fell far short of the highest-grossing Presidents Day holiday — in 2010, when the chick flick “Valentine’s Day” led the box office to a whopping $239.3 million in receipts.
“A Good Day to Die Hard” came in about $10 million behind the fourth film in the series, “Live Free or Die Hard,” which debuted with $33.4 million in June 2007. Still, the latest movie has a good shot at ultimately exceeding the fourth’s global take of $383.5 million. This weekend, the fifth “Die Hard” opened in 63 foreign markets and grossed $61.5 million. The film performed best in the United Kingdom, where it collected $7.6 million, and has yet to open in a handful of countries, including China and France.
In the U.S., critics generally loathed the film, which follows Willis’ John McClane as he heads to Russia to reunite with his CIA agent son (Jai Courtney). Those who saw the picture this weekend — 65 percent of whom were over age 25 — seemed to get what they were looking for, however, assigning the movie an average grade of B-plus. (That was the grade all the weekend’s new movies received, according to market research firm CinemaScore, except for “Beautiful Creatures,” which got a B.)
Willis, 57, has long been a reliable box-office draw when he appears in action movies. Even as part of ensemble films such as “The Expendables” and “Red,” he has found success in the genre.
Though it is the subject of an ongoing lawsuit by the filmmakers, “Escape From Planet Earth” from the Weinstein Co. managed to escape any drama at the box office this weekend. The film about two sibling aliens traveling to Earth, which features celebrity voices including Jessica Alba and Jane Lynch, capitalized on the family audience at the box office. There hasn’t been a kids movie in theaters since December, so it’s likely that parents with children were eager to see a PG-rated film at the multiplex.
As to why “Beautiful Creatures” failed, despite it opening to the strongest reviews of any of the new movies, distributor Warner Bros. had few answers. The studio and its financier Alcon Entertainment, which spent roughly $50 million to make it, were hoping that the movie based on a popular young-adult book series would be championed by young girls. About 67 percent of those who saw the movie over the weekend were female, but the bad news for the movie’s backers was that there just weren’t enough of them.
“Unfortunately, it just didn’t find an audience,” said Jeff Goldstein, Warner Bros.’ executive vice president of domestic distribution. “I think the movie just kind of missed. Somehow, it didn’t resonate with its core group.”