Updated Saturday 10:25 a.m. PT
Despite snow in the midwest and east, it's looking like a good weekend at the domestic box office — "Underworld: Awakening" and "Red Tails" opened to solid numbers, and the weekend is poised to be up more 20 percent compared to the same weekend in 2011.
"Underworld: Awakening" — the fourth in Screen Gems' popular vampire-and-werewolf franchise — easily took the top spot at the box office Friday, grossing $9.4 million. "Red Tails," Fox's story about World War II's Tuskegee Airmen, opened to second place, grossing $6 million on Friday.
Screen Gems' movie is on track to take $24 million over the weekend. Fox's is looking at $17.8 million.
Both those movies earned an "A-" score from the audience polling firm Cinemascore.
But Relativity's entry, the Steven Soderbergh-directed "Haywire" received a rare and low "D+."
Given the movie's 82 percent Rotten Tomatoes rating and solid cast — it includes Michael Douglas, Michael Fassbender, Ewan McGregor, Antonio Banderas, Channing Tatum and Mixed Martial Artist Gina Carano — the low score is a surprise.
"Haywire" took $3 million on Friday and is on track to just exceed studio projections for the weekend. That would put it at No. 5 for the weekend.
Universal's "Contraband," last week's top movie, grossed $3.7 million on Friday, making it the No. 3 movie this weekend. The Warner Bros. 911 movie "Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close," which had been in limited release, opened wide to $3.2 million Friday, putting it No. 4 at the box office.
"Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close" received an "A-" Cinemascore and is expected to take around $9.3 million for the weekend.
In this weekend’s battle between two butt-kicking women for the box office supremacy, the advantage should go to the vampire.
Kate Beckinsale’s "Underworld: Awakening" is expected to triumph over Relativity’s "Haywire," starring Mixed Martial Arts badass Gina Carano as a black ops superagent-gone-rogue, and the rest of the box-office competition, which includes Fox’s "Red Tails," about African American pilots during World War II, and an expansion of Warners’ “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” 9-11 drama.
With only a handful of female-driven action films opening in any given year, it's unusual to see two of them opening against each other. The double dose had at least one rival perplexed. "I don't get it," one veteran producer told TheWrap Thursday.
Sony and Relativity, however, believe their films can each find an audience.
But in terms of weekend bragging rights, it’s all but certain that Sony’s fourth “Underworld” will come out on top at the domestic box office. The first "Underworld" movie, in 2003, opened to $21.8 million. The second and third, in January 2006 and January 2009, respectively, opened to $26.9 million and $20.8 million.
Sony figures "Underworld," will take $20 million to $22 million — in line with outside expectations. Some rival-studio executives think the movie could gross as much as $24 million.
The movie, which cost $70 million to make, is part of a strong franchise, and despite its low, 29 percent Rotten Tomatoes rating, is showing strong numbers. The 3D movie will open at 3,078 locations.
If the tracking is right, Beckinsale will go from the No. 1 movie in America last week to the No. 1 movie in America this weekend. She stars with Mark Wahlberg in Universal's "Contraband," which grossed an impressive $24.5 million last weekend, and could make a run for the No. 2 spot.
"Haywire," directed by Steven Soderbergh, is expected to finish well behind "Underworld" and "Red Tails" despite a cast that includes Michael Douglas, Ewan McGregor, Michael Fassbender, Antonio Banderas, Channing Tatum and Bill Paxton in addition to Carano.
Fox's PG-13 "Red Tails," which opens in 2,512 locations, looks like the No. 2 movie for the weekend, as long as it can fend off “Contraband” in its second weekend. Box office watchers expect the action-adventure film about the Tuskegee Airmen — African American pilots in World War II — to take in as much as $15 million, though Fox is saying it expects $8 million to $10 million.
Although the movie, which cost an estimated $58 million to make, is projected for second place, its Rotten Tomatoes ranking is a weak 29 percent.
But its NRG numbers are fairly strong: 57 percent of moviegoers are aware of the movie and 40 percent report "definite" interest in seeing it. The numbers are particularly high among men: 64 percent of men younger than 25 and 70 percent of those 25 and older report awareness of the movie.
"Haywire" opens at 2,440 locations with has the highest Rotten Tomatoes score of anything opening this weekend — 84 percent. But Relativity has modest expectations for the movie. Relativity would be happy with an $8 million opening.
That's because although the film was made for $23 million, after tax rebates and other incentives, Relativity's exposure is about $1.5 million, an individual close to the project told TheWrap.
NRG says that "Haywire" has slightly better overall awareness than "Red Tails" — 59 percent compared to 57 percent, but the number of moviegoers who say they have "definite" interest in seeing the film is the lowest of any movie opening this weekend — 34 percent.
The studio hopes is that word-of-mouth builds for the movie, and that it will have solid holds over the next few weeks.
"Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close" expands from six to 2,360 locations this weekend. It is expected to gross somewhere around $12 million.
NRG reports that 72 percent of moviegoers are aware of it. The movie has particular appeal to women older than 25: 52 percent of that demographic report "definite" interest in seeing the movie and 19 percent say it is their "first choice."
On the specialty front, the Weinstein Co. is debuting "Coriolanus," starring Gerard Butler and directed by Ralph Fiennes, at nine locations. The movie, based on the Shakespeare play, spent a week in theaters in December to qualify for Academy Awards.
Weinstein also is expanding its Golden Globe-winning "The Artist," from 216 to 662 locations. The silent, black-and-white movie is a strong contender for Academy Awards.
Wreckin Hill is opening "The Flowers of War," a Chinese film starring Christian Bale, at 30 locations. "Flowers" was considered a contender for best foreign language Oscar, but director Zhang Yimou's film did not make the shortlist. It is the most expensive Chinese movie ever made, and was the country's highest-grossing movie of 2011.
According to the audience tracking firm NRG Research, 66 percent of moviegoers are aware of “Flowers of War” and 41 percent have "definite" interest in seeing it. The figures are strongest for young men, 49 percent of whom report "definite" interest in seeing the movie. Among men 25 and older, that number is 46 percent.