Box Office: ‘Unknown’ a surprise No. 1, beating ‘Number Four’ and ‘Big Mommas’

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Liam Neeson has done it again. Just like in 2008, when his action film ‘Taken’ became an unlikely hit at the box office, the actor’s new film, ‘Unknown,’ exceeded pre-release projections and took in a healthy $25.6 million in tickets over the four-day weekend, according to an estimate from distributor Warner Bros.

Trailing just behind ‘Unknown’ was ‘Gnomeo & Juliet,’ which on its second week in release had $24.8 million in ticket sales over the long weekend. From Friday to Sunday, the film was only down 23.5% from last weekend, benefiting from the lack of new movies competing for familes with young children.

‘I Am Number Four,’ the adaptation of a popular young-adult novel, was expected to top the box office this weekend but instead came in with a soft $22.6 million in ticket sales. The weekend’s other new release, ‘Big Mommas: Like Father, Like Son,’ brought in a modest $19 million. It was topped by Sony Pictures’ ‘Just Go With It,’ the romantic comedy that was No. 1 over Valentine’s Day weekend. The film, starring Adam Sandler, maintained a good hold over Presidents Day weekend, dropping 40% on a three-day basis and collecting $21.7 million through Monday.

All three new pictures were received well by audiences, which gave ‘Unknown,’ ‘I Am Number Four’ and ‘Big Mommas’ an average grade of B+, according to market-research firm CinemaScore.


Still, ‘Unknown’ got off to the best start, considering it cost producer Joel Silver’s Dark Castle Entertainment a little more than $30 million to make. That’s the best-ever opening for a Dark Castle film since it started self-financing movies in 2008.

‘Unknown’ was fueled by an older audience, 89% of whom were over 25. Warner Bros. is hoping the film follows in the footsteps of ‘Taken,’ which opened to a similar $24.7 million over a Super Bowl weekend and ended up with an impressive $145 million domestically.

According to a person close to the production, ‘I Am Number Four’ cost DreamWorks about $59 million to produce, though a person close to distributor Disney said the budget was actually closer to $50 million. Either way, that means ‘I Am Number Four’ is off to a less-than-stellar start. The studio had expected the film to be driven largely by younger moviegoers, but only half of the male-driven audience who went to see ‘I Am Number Four’ this weekend was younger than 35.

‘Big Mommas,’ the third movie in the Martin Lawrence comedy series, fell well behind the opening of 2006’s ‘Big Momma’s House 2' and 2000’s ‘Big Momma’s House,’ which debuted to $27.7 million and $25.7 million, respectively, on three-day weekends. Still, the critically lambasted film only cost New Regency Productions $32 million to make, slightly less than the budgets of the two previous films, which were both more than $35 million.

The weekend’s tallies fell far short of last year’s four-day grosses, although both the Valentine’s Day and Presidents Day holidays fell on the same weekend in 2010. Ticket sales were down 29.6% from last February, when the romantic comedy ‘Valentine’s Day’ did excellent business, selling $63.1 million worth of tickets.

[Updated at 11:33 a.m.: Justin Bieber’s 3-D film “Never Say Never,” which follows the pop star on a recent concert tour, dropped a relatively modest 55% on its second weekend and took in $16.2 million over the four days.

That’s a significantly smaller drop than similar music films have experienced. 2008’s “Hannah Montana/Miley Cyrus: Best of Both Worlds” dropped 67% in its second weekend, and “Jonas Brothers: The 3D Concert Experience” plummeted 77% after its opening in 2009.

Here are the top 10 movies at the domestic box office, with foreign grosses when available, according to studio estimates and

1. ‘Unknown’ (Dark Castle/Warner Bros.): Opened to $25.6 million. $4.7 million overseas in 11 foreign markets. 2. “Gnomeo & Juliet” (Disney): $24.8 million in its second weekend, down 24%. Domestic total: $55.8 million. International total: $11.8 million.

3. “I Am Number Four” (DreamWorks/Disney): Opened to $22.6 million. $3.3 million overseas.

4. “Just Go With It” (Sony): $21.7 million on its second weekend, down 40%. Domestic total: $64.3 million. $4.6 million overseas in 19 foreign markets. International total: $13.4 million.

5. “Big Mommas: Like Father, Like Son” (New Regency/20th Century Fox): Opened to $19 million. $4.2 million overseas in 10 foreign markets.

6. “Never Say Never” (Paramount Insurge): $16.5 million in its second weekend, down 55%. Domestic total: $51.4 million. $1.3 million overseas in one foreign market.

7. “The King’s Speech” (Weinstein Co.): $7.9 million on its 13th weekend, down 10%. Domestic total: $104.6 million.

8. “The Roommate” (Sony Screen Gems): $4.5 million on its third weekend, down 50%. Domestic total: $33.1 million.

9. “The Eagle” (Focus Features): $4.3 million in its second weekend, down 58%. Domestic total: $15.8 million.

10. “No Strings Attached” (Paramount/Spyglass/Cold Spring): $3.7 million in its fifth weekend, down 47%. Domestic total: $66.6 million. $10.9 million overseas in 32 foreign markets. International total: $21.6 million.]

-- Amy Kaufman

Photos, from top: Liam Neeson stars in ‘Unknown.’ Credit: Warner Bros. Alex Pettyfer in a scene from ‘I Am Number Four.’ Credit: DreamWorks