Updated 9 a.m. PT Feb. 18
"The Vow," "Safe House" and "Journey 2: The Mysterious Island" are looking like big box office winners this The Presidents Day weekend, with "Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance" just behind them.
All four films are on track to gross well more than $20 million over the four days. Just like last weekend, "The Vow" and "Safe House" will battle it out for the No. 1 spot.
On Friday "The Vow" and "Ghost Rider" pulled in an estimated $7.4 million and $7 million, putting them at No. 1 and No. 2 for the day. "The Vow" was last weekend's No. 1 movie and "Ghost Rider" debuted Friday.
"Safe House" took $6.5 million on Friday, "This Means War" took $5.6 million and "Journey 2" took $4.5 million. Both "Safe House" and "Journey 2" are in their second weekend. "This Means War" is in its first. "The Secret World of Arrietty" debuted to $1.7 million on Friday.
One movie's numbers are especially interesting. Although "Journey 2" opened to a respectable $27.3 million last weekend, it was well behind "The Vow" and "Safe House," which each beat $40 million.
The New Line movie starring Dwayne Johnson and Josh Hutcherson looks to be the biggest beneficiary of the holiday. The PG-rated movie is expected to take about $19 million over three days and nearly $25 over four, athough some box-office watchers think it could hit $26 million.
If it draws an especially large family crowd on Monday, it could be the surprise of the weekend.
"Ghost Rider," meanwhile, looks to be in line with Sony's projections for the weekend -- $20 million for the three days and $24 million for the four. The movie benefitted from an on-target marketing campaign, but is unlikely to be able to recover from the "C+" grade that the audience polling firm Cinemascore assigned to it.
While "Ghost Rider" got hit by its Cinemascore, Fox's "This Means War" could benefit from its "A-." That film is still projected to end the weekend in fifth place, but could exceed the $14 million Fox had estimated.
It's too early to declare the box office slump that began in 2011 over, but every weekend this year has outperformed the comparable weekend last year.
And the upcoming four-day Presidents Day weekend will extend the streak if the industry's projections are on the money.
Sony’s debuting sequel “Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance” and Universal’s week-old “Safe House” are expected to battle for the top spot. Both are looking at somewhere in the upper $20 million or lower $30 million range.
But nearly as intriguing as the battle for No. 1 could be the box-office fate of "This Means War."
Considering the talent behind it, the action comedy ought to be a hit.
Reese Witherspoon, Chris Pine and Tom Hardy are among the most appealing actors in Hollywood, and McG is one of the industry’s best-known directors. Writer-producer Simon Kinburg, whose credits include “Sherlock Holmes” and “Mr. and Mrs. Smith” certainly knows how to write an action movie.
But the Fox film, co-financed by Dune Entertainment, is looking at a modest opening weekend of between $12 million and $14 million. Some box-office watchers outside the studio believe the movie will do even less than that -- $8 million to $10 million.
For a movie with a budget estimated at $65 million, those numbers are awfully low.
“Ghost Rider,” on the other hand, has some strong tracking, especially among men younger than 25. According to the research firm NRG, 92 percent of all men report awareness of the movie, and 52 percent of men younger than 25 report “definite” interest in seeing it.
There aren’t a whole lot of reviews yet: Metacritic hasn’t yet rated the PG-13 film. Movie Review Intelligence gives it a good, at 60 percent, and Rotten Tomatoes gives it a 0 with five reviews.
The studio offered a characteristically conservative forecast, projecting that the movie will take somewhere in the upper $20 million range. Box-office watchers outside Sony generally agree the sequel to the 2007 “Ghost Rider” will gross around $30 million.
The target audience for the 3D movie starring Nicolas Cage as a motorcycle-driving demon-fighter is fanboys, and Sony has been courting them heavily. It brought on fanboy favorites Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor to direct the $75 million movie, which also stars Idris Elba, and offered fans a special presentation during last year’s Comic-Con.
Question is, can it beat “Safe House”?
The No. 3 spot likely will belong to “The Vow,” another Sony picture.
That PG-13 romantic drama opened in first place last weekend, taking $41.2 million, and pulled in another $11.6 million on Valentine’s Day.
But it may have played itself out. Expect a heavy – in the range of 55 percent – drop, to about $21 million.
“The Vow” looked so strong in its first week that Fox decided to move the wide release of “This Means War” from Valentine’s Day to Friday in order to avoid competing against it.
A PG-13-rated comedy, "This Means War" also was out in a sneak preview on Valentine’s Day, pulling in $1.65 million at 2,500 locations.
Now that it’s opening wide, in 3,189 locations, Fox is hoping for a modest $12 million over three days and $14 million over four.
The film is about two CIA agents who learn that they are dating the same woman -- and decide to fight it out for her.
Tracking is adequate. The movie is doing best among women – 76 percent of younger women and 74 percent of older ones are familiar with the movie, 43 percent of all women report “definite” interest in seeing it and 11 percent of younger women and 10 percent of older ones say it is their “first choice.”
But men show little interest in seeing it. And critics aren’t especially kind: Metacritic gives it a 32, Movie Review Intelligence gives it a 40.3 and RottenTomatoes gives it a 26.
Finally this weekend, Disney opens the animated “The Secret World of Arrietty” at 1,522 locations.
It is not a Disney movie. Rather, the Japanese anime company Studio Ghibli made the movie, and Disney acquired domestic distribution rights. Hayao Miyazaki, who made “Ponyo” and “Spirited Away,” directed “Arrietty,” which is based on the novel “The Borrowers.”
The English version features the voices of Bridgit Mendler, Amy Poehler and Carol Burnett.
Tracking for the movie is weak: Its strongest awareness level is among women younger than 25 -- and only 53 percent of them report awareness of it.
On the upside, critics really like it. The movie has an 81 at Metacritic, an 80.9 at Movie Review Intelligence and a 91 at Rotten Tomatoes.
Disney has modest expectations for the G-rated movie and figures it will take somewhere in the mid-to-upper single digits.