Despite an awkward delay, an R rating and pitch-dark themes, Paramount’s “Shutter Island” opened to $40.2 million this weekend, according to studio estimates, making it the best box-office debut ever for both director Martin Scorsese and star Leonardo DiCaprio.
“I always thought it would be big movie, and I always thought we would get it open to big number, but I never dreamed we would get it open to $40 million,” said Paramount distribution general manager Don Harris.
Shot on location in Massachusetts, and budgeted at around $75 million once state tax incentives were factored in, “Shutter Island” actually benefited from Paramount’s late-game decision last summer to move the film from fall to February.
Not only did that increase awareness of the picture among moviegoers — the trailer was in theaters off and on for nearly nine months — Harris said opening in February meant that “Shutter Island” didn’t have to compete with all the “awards wannabes” vying for the same adult audience.
Prior to "Shutter Island," Scorsese’s biggest opening came in October 2006 with "The Departed" at $26.9 million. As for DiCaprio, his previous best came in 2002 with Tom Hanks co-starrer "Catch Me if You Can," which debuted to $30.1 million. "Titanic" was actually DiCaprio’s second biggest opening at $28.6 million.
Also opening simultaneously in seven major international territories, foreign box-office totals for "Shutter Island" will be announced later on Sunday.
Domestically, with the latest adaptation of a novel by Dennis Lehane (“Mystic River,” “Gone Baby Gone”) being the only wide-opener this weekend, it didn’t have to compete with much, say for a few strong holdovers from last weekend.
Amid an overall domestic box office that totaled about $137.5 million according to one studio’s estimate, a 6 percent drop from the same weekend in 2009, defending box-office champ “Valentine’s Day” declined big, 68 percent week-to-week to $17.2 million. The star-studded, Garry Marshall-directed romantic comedy, shot for around $52 million, has grossed $87.4 million after two weeks.
Last weekend’s runner-up, Fox’s PG-rated, Chris Columbus-directed “Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lighting Thief,” dropped 50 percent from its premiere, finishing with $15.3 million. The $95 million fantasy movie has grossed $58.7 million so far.
Meanwhile, another big holdover from President’s Day weekend, Universal’s “The Woflman,” also dropped big, grossing $9.8 million. Budgeted at $85 million after tax breaks, the remake has now grossed $50.3 million.
Then, of course, there was “Avatar,” which finished in third place with $16.1 million this weekend (a 30 percent week-to-week decline). Now up to $687.8 million domestically, James Cameron’s record-breaking run now finally seems to be at an ebb. Its 11th weekend in theaters next weekend will be its last as the only 3D film in the market, with Disney’s Tim Burton-directed “Alice in Wonderland” premiering March 5.
While “Shutter Island” was the only film to open widely this weekend, starting out in 2,991 theaters, Summit Entertainment did release the Roman Polanski-directed thriller “The Ghost Writer” in four theaters in New York and Los Angeles. The film, which will go wide next weekend, grossed $179,000 for a per-screen average of $43,063.
Here’s how the top 10 shaped up at the domestic box office this weekend:
“Shutter Island” ($40.2m)
“Valentine’s Day” ($17.2m)
“Percy Jackson and the Olympians” ($15.3m)
“The Wolfman” ($9.8m)
“Dear John” ($7.3m)
“The Tooth Fairy” ($4.5m)
“From Paris with Love” ($2.5m)
“Crazy Heart” ($2.3m)
“Edge of Darkness” ($2.2m)