First look: ‘Dear John’ steals first place from ‘Avatar’ while ‘From Paris With Love’ flops


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In the first major box office shocker of 2010, tearjerker ‘Dear John’ displaced ‘Avatar’ from the top of the chart with a very strong $32.4 million opening in the U.S. and Canada, according to an estimate from distributor Sony Pictures.

James Cameron’s 3-D spectacle ‘Avatar’ took in $23.6 million, bringing its domestic total to $630.1 million. ‘Avatar’ ticket sales were down 25% on its eighth weekend. That’s the science-fiction blockbuster’s second-highest decline since it launched, demonstrating that it was affected by the new competition.


Pre-release surveys had indicated that ‘Dear John,’ Hollywood’s latest adaptation of a Nicholas Sparks novel, would open to a little more than $20 million. Its surprising strength is another sign of the power of the young female audience, which last year drove hits such as ‘The Twilight Saga: New Moon’ and ‘Hannah Montana: The Movie.’ Its audience was 84% female, and 64% were younger than 21, according to exit polls.

‘Dear John’ was the biggest debut for a movie on Super Bowl weekend, edging out ‘Hannah Montana/Miley Cyrus: Best of Both Worlds,’ which started with $31.1 million in 2008.

Sony Pictures distributed ‘Dear John,’ which stars Channing Tatum and Amanda Seyfried, for financier Relativity Media, which said it spent $25 million to make the movie. However, one person close to the production said the cost was $35 million.

The weekend’s other new film, the John Travolta action flick ‘From Paris With Love,’ opened to a very disappointing $8.1 million. Distributor Lionsgate, which bought distribution rights to the picture from Europa Corp., had hoped to replicate the success of ‘Taken.’ That action movie, which, like ‘From Paris,’ was directed by Pierre Morel, debuted to $24.7 million on Super Bowl weekend last year.

[Update, 10:20 a.m.: Lionsgate paid $12 million to distribute ‘From Paris With Love’ domestically and in several overseas territories. 1.44 p.m: an earlier version of this update said $23 million instead of $12 million.]

‘Edge of Darkness,’ Mel Gibson’s return to a big-screen starring role after an eight-year absence, declined a sizable 59% on its second weekend to $7 million, making its total after 10 days $29.1 million. Romantic comedy ‘When in Rome’ fell 55% on its second weekend to $5.5 million. Its total at the end of its second weekend is a soft $20.9 million.

-- Ben Fritz

Update, 11:30 a.m.: For details on the performance of movies that looked to benefit from Oscar nominations this weekend, see our second box office post.

Top photo: Channing Tatum and Amanda Seyfriend in ‘Dear John.’ Credit: Scott Garfield / Sony Pictures