LOS ANGELES - "Texas Chainsaw 3D" easily sliced through the competition at the box office this weekend - including a group of Hobbits that had been expected to keep up their winning streak.
As the only new film to hit theaters nationwide, the reboot of the 1974 horror flick had to contend only with a handful of movies that have been out for weeks. Still, the low-budget movie did better than predicted, collecting a robust $23 million during its opening weekend, according to an estimate from distributor Lionsgate.
Heading into the weekend, pre-release audience polling suggested that "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey" would claim No. 1 for the fourth consecutive weekend, while "Chainsaw" looked poised to finish second with around $16 million. Instead, Peter Jackson's film grossed $17.5 million, raising its domestic total to $263.8 million.
Meanwhile, both "Django Unchained" and "Les Miserables" crossed the $100 million milestone. Since being released on Christmas Day, Quentin Tarantino's film has sold $106.4 million, while the film version of the Broadway musical is up to $103.6 million. The continued performance of the movies helped to start the year off on a positive note, with ticket sales up 7 percent compared with the same weekend in 2012. The Oscar nominations, which will be announced on Thursday, and the Golden Globes, which are handed out on Sunday, could give a boost to award-friendly films such as "Les Miserables," "Zero Dark Thirty" and "Lincoln."
"Texas Chainsaw 3D" is the seventh film to feature the villain Leatherface. The new movie posted the second-highest opening of any "Chainsaw" film - not adjusting for inflation - behind 2003's "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre," the Jessica Biel film that ultimately sold a strong $80.6 million.
Financed by Avi Lerner's Millennium Films for about $20 million, "Texas Chainsaw 3D" - which has notched only a 23 percent fresh rating on the review aggregation site Rotten Tomatoes - received an average grade of C-plus from opening-weekend moviegoers, according to market research firm CinemaScore. However, horror films often receive poor CinemaScores and still go on to do good business at the box office.
The film attracted a young audience, 64 percent of whose members were younger than 25. Of those in that age group, 1 out of 3 said the main reason they showed up to see the film was that the musical artist Trey Songz had a role in it. "Chainsaw" is the first film that the 28-year-old Grammy nominee has starred in, and he has been heavily promoting the picture to his 5.6 million Twitter followers in recent weeks.
"He's been tremendous," said Richie Fay, Lionsgate's president of domestic distribution. "The folks in marketing had the feeling he was going to be a big draw and asked him to pursue his Twitter followers by making personal appeals, and it worked out."
Also this weekend, the Matt Damon-John Krasinski collaboration "Promised Land" got off to a bad start. The environmental drama, which was co-written by and stars the actors, expanded from 25 theaters to 1,676 locations but brought in a lackluster $4.3 million.
The Focus Features production about conflict over a town's natural gas reserves cost the studio and co-financier Participant Media only about $15 million to produce. But with middling reviews and a B CinemaScore, it's a longshot that the film will end up being a hit even given its modest budget.
"The relentless adult holiday-market product is still dominating, and that hurt us," said Jack Foley, president of domestic distribution for Focus. "It's a better movie than the business it did."
Another film that expanded this weekend was "The Impossible," the $40 million production about a family in the aftermath of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. Playing in 572 locations, the Summit Entertainment release collected a so-so $2.8 million. However, the picture is faring far better overseas. Already a hit in Spain, from which its filmmaker hails, the movie debuted in the United Kingdom this weekend and grossed $6.4 million. Overall, the movie has grossed $81.2 million abroad and $3.4 million in the U.S. and Canada.