"Act of Valor," Relativity's action film starring actual Navy SEALs, stormed the multiplex this weekend, taking $24.7 million and helping the North American box office sustain its lead over 2011.
It is Relativity Media's third movie in 12 months to debut at No. 1.
"Tyler Perry's Good Deeds" opened in second place, taking $16 million for Lionsgate, according to studio estimates.
While the overall box office was up about 23 percent compared to the same weekend in 2011, two new movies flopped: Universal's "Wanderlust" took only $6.6 million and Summit's "Gone" managed only $5 million.
A handful of holdovers, however, are still seeing strong numbers.
New Line's "Journey 2: The Mysterious Island" took $13.5 million in its third week of release — putting the family film in third place for the weekend.
This past weekend, "The Vow" crossed the $100 million mark, making it the first Screen Gems film to reach that milestone. "Safe House," which has grossed $98.1 million so far, is likely to hit the mark this week.
Compared to last week's four-day holiday weekend, when five movies broke the $20 million mark — three movies grossed more than $20 million from Friday to Sunday — this weekend does not look especially strong. Only "Act of Valor," exceeded the $20 million mark.
But compared to this time last year, when "Hall Pass" debuted at No. 1 with $13.5 million, the weekend is looking pretty good.
Relativity's official projections had "Act of Valor" taking $15 million-to-$17 million over the weekend. Less conservative box-office watchers outside the studio estimated the movie would take $23 million.
So $24.7 million is strong by any measure.
Relativity paid $13 million to acquire the movie, but by preselling international rights and making other deals, the company pushed its acquisition cost down to about $5.5 million. It pursued an aggressive — and expensive — marketing strategy that included four 30-second commercials during the Superbowl.
The R-rated movie was targeted to men, and men showed up: 71 percent of the audience was made up of males and 40 percent of the audience was made up of people younger than 25.
"This is a movie that was a bit of a mystery going into the weekend," Kyle Davies, Relativity's head of distribution, told TheWrap Sunday morning. "It's not a traditional Hollywood movie — no big names. It's not a visual effects-driven movie, but what it is is an incredibly intense and authentic movie … You get a glimpse into the world of the Navy SEALs. A lot of the action scenes were shot with live fire."
According to the audience polling firm Cinemascore, that all resonated: The movie received an "A" rating.
The No. 2 movie in America, "Tyler Perry's Good Deeds," also received an "A" Cinemascore.
The PG-13-rated romantic drama from Lionsgate had an especially strong, 25 percent increase from Friday to Saturday. That is the largest Friday-to-Saturday increase of any Tyler Perry film, and it indicates that the movie attracted a slightly older audience.
Audience statistics bear that out: 85 percent of the audience was 25 and older and 76 percent was female.
While "Act of Valor" and "Good Deeds" debuted at No. 1 and No. 2, the other two new movies of the weekend struggled to find an audience.
Universal's "Wanderlust" got a "B-" Cinemascore and opened at No. 8. The R-rated comedy, made for somewhere in the $30 millions, is about a Manhattan couple that moves to a commune.
The audience it did attract was 57 percent female and 61 percent 30 and older.
Going into the weekend, Universal had low expectations for the film. But with David Wain directing, Judd Apatow and Paul Rudd among the producers, and Rudd starring with Jennifer Aniston, the movie was a nod to the importance of the studio's relationship with the filmmakers and stars.
Relativity was a partner in the film.
Finally, Summit's "Gone," a PG-13 rated thriller, debuted in ninth place.
Cinemascore gave the movie, which stars Amanda Seyfried, a "C+" score. Its small audience was made up mostly of women — 64 percent of the audience was female.
While the dollar figure was disappointing, Summit built the deal to mitigate its own risks. Its agreement with producers and other parties means Summit has $2 million at risk on "Gone."
Among holdovers, CBS Films' "The Woman in Black" crossed the $50 million mark in its fourth week of domestic release, taking $2.7 million, according to the studio.
Open Road's "The Grey," in its fifth week of release, also crossed the $50 million mark.
Among specialty releases this Oscar weekend, The Weinstein Company's "The Artist" took $3 million in its 14th week of release. Fox Searchlight's "The Descendants" grossed $2.2 million in its 15th week.
That puts "The Artist" No. 13 for the weekend and "The Descendants" No. 15.