Stronger-than-expected performances by "The Vow," "Safe House," "Journey 2: The Mysterious Island" and "Star Wars: Episode I — The Phantom Menace" knocked down a couple of domestic box-office records this weekend.
For the first time since Christmas weekend 2008 — and for the first non-holiday weekend ever — four movies debuted to more than $20 million. "The Vow" more than doubled that sum, taking an estimated $41.7 million. "Safe House" nearly doubled it, with $39.3 million.
"Journey 2: The Mysterious Island" beat all expectations with $27.6 million and Fox's 3D re-release of "Star Wars: Episode I — The Phantom Menace" grossed a solid $23 million.
While it is too early in the year to say that the slump that plagued the box office in 2011 is over, Hollywood has reason to celebrate today.
"The weekend itself is a record-breaker," Nikki Rocco, Universal's distribution chief, told TheWrap Sunday morning.
In addition to this being the first non-holiday weekend to have four movies debut to more than $20 million, she said this is the biggest non-holiday February weekend ever.
And she noted that the overall box office is up around 30 percent compared to this weekend in 2011.
"People are in the moviegoing mode," said Rocco, whose studio released "Safe House." "The numbers are just fantastic."
Her counterpart at Fox, Chris Aronson, agreed.
"It's pretty remarkable," he said. "Last year you'd have to go to July 15 to find the first non-holiday weekend that grossed this much."
He attributed the robust box office to a diverse mix of movies.
"You have choices," he said. "You have something for everybody in the marketplace, and when you have compelling choices, that translates into a healthy marketplace."
Rory Bruer, the distribution chief at Sony, echoed their thoughts.
"To have the tremendous success that we did, and to see how well the other films in the market opened … bodes so well for us as an industry as a whole," Bruer told TheWrap Sunday morning. "I think it's a great omen for many, many good weeks to come."
"The Vow," which Sony's Screen Gems co-financed with Spyglass Entertainment, smashed pre-release expectations.
The studio expected that the PG-13 romantic drama would take somewhere in the mid-to-high $20 million range, though outside box-office watchers figured it would take a little more than $30 million.
The $41.7 million came largely from women, who made up 72 percent of the audience. "The Vow," which stars Channing Tatum and Rachel McAdams, played to a slightly younger audience: 55 percent of the people who turned out for the film's opening weekend were younger than 25.
The movie, which cost about $30 million to make, broke the record for a Screen Gems opening weekend. The label's previous record belonged to "Dear John," which opened to $30.5 million in February, 2010. That movie also starred Tatum.
Bruer said he believes "The Vow," directed by Michael Sucsy, will continue to perform well, especially on Valentine's Day.
Cinemascore, the audience polling firm, gave the movie a "B."
The film is about a woman, played by McAdams, who emerges from a coma with no memory of her husband, played by Tatum.
It opened to strong numbers internationally as well as in North America. It took $9.7 million in 20 markets and opened No. 1 in Australia, the Philipines and New Zealand.
"Safe House" took a close second place at the domestic box office.
The movie, starring Denzel Washington and Ryan Reynolds, was Washington's second-best opening for a Universal film. His 2007 "American Gangster" remains his biggest Universal opening, with $43.6 million.
While "The Vow" played to an overwhelmingly female audience, the "Safe House" audience was evenly split between men and women. But it played to a slightly older crowd: 62 percent of its opening weekend audience was made up of people 30 or older.
Cinemascore gave the R-rated thriller an "A-."
The movie shot in South Africa and had a budget of around $85 million.
Universal and box-office watchers outside the studio had figured it would open somewhere in the low-$20 million range.
"This is shattering the pre-release expectations," Rocco said.
She attributed the movie's success to its stars.
"People love Denzel and they love him in this antagonistic role," she said.
In the movie, Washington plays a brilliant ex-CIA officer who has gone rogue. When he shows up at a U.S. safe house in South Africa, the place is attacked and a younger officer, played by Reynolds, has to protect him.
Internationally, "Safe House" took $10.2 million, opening at No. 1 in seven territories and in the top three in all 25.
Debuting at No. 3 in North America, New Line's "Journey 2: The Mysterious Island" seriously outperformed pre-release expectations. The movie, which box-office watchers outside the studio initially predicted would take somewhere in the low-to-mid teens, grossed $27.6 million.
The PG-rated 3D film starring Dwayne Johnson, Josh Hutcherson and Vanessa Hudgens, has now grossed more than $100 million worldwide.
The movie's uptick from Friday to Saturday is especially noteworthy: It jumped from $6.6 million on Friday to $12.7 million Saturday.
On IMAX screens alone, "Journey 2" grossed $4 million — 14 percent of the movie's overall domestic box office.
The sequel to the 2008 "Journey to the Center of the Earth" cost an estimated $79 million to make and got a Cinemascore of "A-."
Finally, Fox released a 3D version of "Star Wars: Episode I — The Phantom Menace," to $23 million — in line with pre-release expectations.
The movie, first released in 1999, played well to families, Aronson, Fox's distribution chief, said.
"There were probably a few more dads and sons than moms and sons or moms and daughters," Aronson said, "but it was pretty balanced."
He said that 51 percent of the audience was made up of people older than 25, and that 60 percent was male.
Internationally, the movie took $20.5 million, for a worldwide weekend of $43.5 million.
Also this weekend, the Warner Bros. "Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows" passed the half-billion dollar mark worldwide, according to Rentrak.
The movie, which hasn't yet opened in Japan, took $5 million internationally, bringing it to $320 million outside North America and $504.2 million worldwide.
The 2009 "Sherlock Holmes" grossed $315 million internationally.