The Martin Luther King holiday weekend is deiivering strong numbers at the domestic box office, with Universal's "Contraband" and Disney's "Beauty and the Beast" enjoying better-than-expected openings.
"Contraband," an R-rated thriller starring Mark Wahlberg, grossed $24 million, and "Beauty and the Beast" took $18.5 million over the three days.
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The success of "Beauty and the Beast," first released 21 years ago, is especially important to Disney because it confirms that there is a large market for 3D re-releases of beloved movies.
But "Joyful Noise," Alcon's religious-themed musical, stumbled. In fact, "Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol" — now in its fifth week of release — had a better weekend than "Joyful Noise." "M:I:4" took $11.5 million compared to $11.3 million for "Joyful Noise."
Last weekend's box office champion, Paramount Insurge's critically despised "The Devil Inside," is no longer king. The movie took in only $7.9 million — a 76.6 percent drop compared to its opening three days.
And a specialty film, the Weinstein Company's "The Iron Lady" cracked the top 10 in its first week in wide release. The movie took $5.4 million in 802 locations — enough to make it No. 10 in the nation.
Overall, the box office is up about 2 percent over last year's MLK holiday weekend.
While "Contraband" opened to smaller numbers this week than "Devil" did last week, "Contraband" is expected to continue performing well. The audience polling firm Cinemascore gave the movie an "A-" score, although critics are split: The movie has a 46 percent Rotten Tomatoes score.
But the movie, by director Baltasar Kormakur, cost a modest $25 million to make and is showing promise.
"You know what?" said Nikki Rocco, Universal's distribution chief, "Mark Wahlberg. People like him as a leading man. … This film is a great success."
Pre-release tracking had the movie opening to $17 million over three days and $21 million for the four-day weekend.
Meanwhile, "Beauty and the Beast" has broken the record for best opening of an animated movie in January. The Weinstein Company's "Hoodwinked," which took $16.9 million over the Martin Luther King holiday in 2006, previously had that distinction.
And if Disney's $24.7 million projections for the four-day weekend prove true, "Beauty and the Beast" will be the studio's biggest January opening ever, surpassing the 2002 "Snow Dogs," which opened to $23.7 million.
Most important for Disney, though, is what "Beauty and the Beast's" success means for the future of re-releases.
Last September, the studio released a 3D version of "The Lion King," which went on to gross nearly $95 million.
Since then, Disney announced plans to release 3D versions of other classic animated movies, including "Finding Nemo," "The Little Mermaid" and "Monsters, Inc."
"Beauty and the Beast's" strong performance "shows it's not a one-time phenomenon," Dave Hollis, the studio's distribution chief, told TheWrap Sunday morning. "It's great to see that we can do this magnitude of business — and it gives us a lot of hope for 'Nemo' and 'Monsters' and 'Mermaid' and whatever else comes down the road."
It's also worth noting that "Beauty and the Beast" has been available in 3D on home video since October.
About 4.8 million American households have screens that can show 3D movies, so "Beauty and the Beast's" strong theatrical numbers show that re-releases, at least, can deliver strong box office numbers even after they are available for home viewing.
But "Beauty" is a different beast than most movies.
The G-rated film stepped into movie theaters already beloved. Its Cinemascore was an "A+," and it drew both families and couples.
Hollis said that 60 percent of the audience was made up of families, 28 percent of couples and 12 percent of teens. As expected, the demographic shifted at 8 p.m., when family audiences fell off and couples on dates came into theaters.
"We're feeling good about what that might mean for a nice, long run," Hollis said.
Disney spent about $10 million converting the movie into 3D. Its original budget was about $25 million.
The third new release of the weekend, Alcon's "Joyful Noise" fell just short of expectations.
The PG-13 picture starring Dolly Parton and Queen Latifah was expected to gross $12 million over three days and $15 million over four.
It took $11.3 million.
"Joyful Noise" saw its strongest numbers in the south, Jeff Goldstein, Warner's executive VP domestic distribution, told TheWrap. Warner Bros. distributes for Alcon.
"We overperformed in all those Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina towns," Goldstein said. "All throughout that whole region where they really enjoy gospel music."
The movie, which cost about $25 million to make, had a Cinemascore of "A-."
While Steven Spielberg's "War Horse" likely spent its last weekend in the top 10, several other holdovers are notable: "M:I:4," of course, which is No. 3 at the box office, and "Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows," which is No. 5 in its fifth week.
Also, Sony's "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo," is inching toward $90 million, and the studio expects the movie ultimately will gross $110 million at the box office.