In a Super Bowl weekend record, two movies — "Chronicle" and "The Woman in Black" — opened to more than $20 million at the domestic box office.
Fox's "Chronicle" grossed an estimated $22 million and CBS Films' "Woman in Black" took an estimated $21 million, making the movies the top two in North America.
Considering that Super Bowl weekend is traditionally weak and that studios had figured the two PG-13 movies would take in about half what they did, the numbers are especially striking. While studios generally offer conservative pre-release estimates, outside box-office watchers also predicted lower numbers than "Chronicle" and "Woman in Black" achieved.
Less conservative pre-release predictions for "Chronicle" had it taking about $15 million. Estimates for "Woman in Black" had it grossing about $14 million.
The overall box office was up 38 percent compared to the same weekend in 2011.
While Fox and CBS had reason to cheer, Universal was less fortunate.
The studio's "Big Miracle" pulled in $8.5 million — in line with expectations, and enough to make it the No. 4 movie at the box office, but not especially impressive for a $40 million movie.
Fox spent about $12 million to make "Chronicle," a found footage action film about a group of high school friends who develop superpowers. CBS picked up domestic distribution rights for "The Woman in Black," about a young lawyer who travels to a remote village where he encounters the ghost of a scornful woman, for $3 million.
"Both pictures way overperformed, which is good for everybody," Chris Aronson, Fox's distribution chief, told TheWrap Sunday morning. "It's good for the business."
And he pointed out that both "Chronicle" and "Woman in Black" attracted the increasingly elusive under-25 moviegoer.
"Chronicle," he said, "is a movie that was deisgned by and made for young people. And that’s the demographic that has been largely disappeared."
Indeed, director Josh Trank is 26 years old.
"The aesthetic that Josh created for this movie really hit a nerve with the intended audience," Aronson said.
It certainly brought them into the multiplex: 61 percent of the audience was younger than 25. And while the movie skewed toward male viewers, it drew more females than the studio anticipated: about 45 percent of the audience was made up of females.
"That's getting darn near balanced," Aronson said.
And the audience liked the movie well enough. The audience polling firm Cinemascore gave "Chronicle" a "B" overall and a "B+" among its target audience of people younger than 25.
Young people drove "The Woman in Black," as well.
That movie's audience was 57 percent younger than 25. As expected, it was overwhelmingly female — 59 percent.
"Harry Potter's" Daniel Radcliffe starred in the movie, and promoted it heavily.
"He went on every show, did every interview, showed up at multiple screenings in multiple cities, signed autographs and took pictures with the fans," a spokesman for CBS Films, told TheWrap Sunday. "And this is all while he was doing Broadway."
"Woman in Black" gave CBS Films its highest opening weekend since it started distributing movies in January 2010. The company's previous high weekend was in April 2010, when "The Back-Up Plan" opened to $12.2 million.
The success of "Woman in Black" should offer encouragement to the mid-sized studio model.
"We picked up the U.S. rights for 3 million, we kept our marketing spend very low and, along with the efficiency of the acquisition and our operation as a whole, you don't have to break the bank to have a great opening," the spokesman said.
The spokesman declined to comment on how much the company spent to market the movie, but it looks like a $15 million campaign.
While "Chronicle" and "Woman in Black" were the weekend's big miracles, Universal's "Big Miracle" wasn't so spectacular.
It had the highest Cinemascore of the three new movies — an "A-" — but was the No. 4 movie in America, after "Chronicle," "Woman in Black" and last week's box office champion "The Grey."
It also was the most expensive movie, at about $40 million.
Like the other two new movies, the PG-rated movie played to a young crowd: 67 percent of the audience was 25 and younger, and 68 percent was female.
The movie, about a news reporter in Alaska who, with his ex-girlfriend, organizes a campaign to save a family of gray whales trapped by ice in the Arctic, was meant to appeal to a family crowd.
Also worth noting this weekend, Sony's "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo," now in its seventh week, grossed $1 million domestically and $7.6 million worldwide. That puts the movie at $99.9 million domestically and $199.2 million worldwide.
While studios had low expectations for Super Bowl weekend, they have high hopes for next week, when New Line releases "Journey 2: The Mysterious Island," Universal puts out "Safe Hosue," Fox re-releases "Star Wars: Episode I — The Phantom Menace" and Sony debuts "The Vow."