Romance Rules Friday B.O.: ‘Valentine’s Day’ at $14.6M

Ensemble rom-com on pace for $61M weekend; “Percy Jackson” big too at $9.7M

Last Updated: February 14, 2010 @ 11:22 AM

Saturday box-office update:

Love lingered in the air at the domestic box office Friday, with Warner’s Gary Marshall-directed ensemble rom-com "Valentine’s Day" picking up where "Dear John" left off last weekend, opening No. 1 with $14.6 million in ticket sales, according to studio estimates.

The hot start puts the star-studded PG-13-rated film, shot for $52 million, on track to finish the four-day Valentine’s/President’s Day weekend period with over $60 million. That’s well above pre-release expectations of around $45 million.

Also opening above forecasts, Fox’s PG-rated "Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief" brought in $9.7 million Friday, putting it on pace for over $50 million for the four-day weekend. The Chris Columbus-directred fantasy movie, co-financed with Dune Entertainment and Ingenious Film Partners and shot for a reported $95 million, wasn’t even expected to gross $30 million for the weekend.

Matching its forecasts, however, was Universal’s R-rated remake of "The Wolfman," which debuted to $9.8 million Friday and is expected to take in just over $30 million for the weekend.

Among holdovers, Sony/Screen Gems’ "Dear John" — which grossed over $30 million last weekend while ending the seven-week box-office reign of James Cameron’s "Avatar" — finished with just $4.1 million Friday, a whopping 70 percent drop-off from its premiere a week earlier.

Fox’s "Avatar," meanwhile, dropped only 27 percent week-to-week, taking in $4.5 million Friday. It’s expected to build its all-time-leading domestic box-office total to beyond $660 million by the end of the weekend.

Overall, the North American box office is pacing about 7 percent ahead of the comparable weekend last year, when Warner’s "Friday the 13th" reboot led all comers with $40.6 million.

Leading the way is "Valentine’s Day," which packs a cast that includes such well-knowns as Julia Roberts, Jessica Alba, Kathy Bates, Ashton Kutcher, Jessica Biel, Bradley Cooper, Anne Hathaway, Jamie Foxx, Patrick Dempsey, Jennifer Garner and Taylor Lautner — most of them working cheap because their appearances only required a limited number of shooting days.

Going into the weekend, Warner officials compared the film favorably to 2004’s "50 First Dates," the all-time Valentine’s Day weekend rom-com champ at $45.1 million. "That’s our goal," said studio distribution chief Dan Fellman. "Hopefully, we can get close to that."

Here’s a look at Friday’s overall top 10:

“Valentine’s Day” ($14.6m)
"The Wolfman” ($9.8m)
“Percy Jackson and the Olympians” ($9.7m)
“Avatar” ($4.5m)
“Dear John” ($4.1m)
“The Tooth Fairy” ($1.3m)
“From Paris with Love” ($1.1m)
“Edge of Darkness” ($1.0m)
“Crazy Heart” ($864,000)
“Book of Eli” ($721,000)
Thursday preview:

There could be some heartache at the box office this weekend.

Moviegoers will have a lot of choices over the crowded four-day holiday period, with  Warner/New Line’s ensemble rom-com “Valentine’s Day” and Universal horror remake “The Wolfman” each opening in 3,000 theaters. In addition, both “Dear John” and “Avatar” provide strong holdover competition.

And for the kids: Fox is opening a PG-rated, Chris Columbus-directed fantasy film “Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief."

Overall, the domestic box office is expected to surpass the nearly $190 million grossed over last year’s record Valentine’s Day/Presidents Day weekend, with Warner’s aptly timed “Valentine’s Day” leading the pack with $45 million.

While last year’s weekend was led by a horror remake (“Friday the 113th”), Warner officials believe the Gary Marshall-directed “Valentine’s Day” — shot for under $50 million and featuring an all-star cast working for the equivalent of candy hearts — should be favorably compared to 2004’s “50 First Dates.”

Starring Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore, that Sony-distributed rom-com opened to just over $45 million, making it the No. 1 Valentine’s Day romantic comedy of all time.

“That’s our goal — hopefully we can get close to that,” Warner Distribution President Dan Fellman told TheWrap.

To get to $45 million, “Valentine’s Day” will have to overcome competition from last weekend’s box-office champ,  “Dear John.” That Sony/Screen Gems romantic tearjerker blew way past pre-release expectations with a $30.6 million opening, while commanding a youthful audience that was 84 percent female.

“I don’t think we have to worry about that,” said Fellman, who believes the overall market this weekend will be big enough to accommodate both films. “It’s going to be a nice weekend. It could be a record-breaker.’

“We’re all chasing a distinct target market,” concurred Universal distribution president Nikki Rocco, noting that “The Wolfman” is tracking well with young men. The R-rated, graphic-novel-inspired version of the studio’s seminal horror franchise stars Benicio Del Torro in the full-moon affected title role, alongside Anthony Hopkins and Emily Blunt.

“Each of the films coming out this weekend can succeed and be compatible with one-another,” Rocco added.

Tracking shows the $85 million remake of the 1941 classic, co-financed by Relativity Media, could gross as much as $34 million over the four-day period.

Reviews for the oft-delayed film haven’t been great — aggregator Rotten Tomatoes scores it with an early 38 percent “fresh” rating (which is better than the 12 percent currently attached to “Valentine’s Day”).

Garnering the best critical reception of the new releases (67 percent fresh) is Fox’s lower profile “Percy Jackson,” a PG film one rival-studio distribution executive believes “will play really well with a young audience.”

Starring 18-year-old Logan Lerman (TV’s "Jack and Bobby") as a kind of latent Greek god, “Jackson” is projected to debut to about $28 million over the four-day weekend period.

Meanwhile, among holdovers, Fox’s “Avatar” is expected to gross in the low twenties for its ninth weekend in release. (It took in $635.5 million domestically through Wednesday.)

And Sony’s “Dear John” is expected to finish fifth, dropping about half its debut audience for a projected gross of around $15 million.

Last weekend, the Nicholas Sparks novel adaptation far exceeded tracking expectations in the mid-$20 million range.

“‘Dear John has been so well received, so who knows what it’ll do this weekend,” said a rival-studio distribution official.