With football playoffs dominating the pop culture landscape this weekend, Paramount Pictures' hope with "No Strings Attached" was to get a good number of women out to movie theaters.
It succeeded, as the friends-with-benefits comedy starring Natalie Portman and Ashton Kutcher opened to a solid $20.3 million, according to studio estimates, to win the weekend; 70% of attendees were women, exit polling showed. It was the only new picture to open nationwide, continuing what has been a slow January at the box office.
"No Strings Attached" is the first mainstream romantic comedy starring Portman, who also executive produced, and marked a healthy start in the genre. It was the highest opening for the actress outside of the "Star Wars" pictures and comic book adaptation "V for Vendetta."
For Kutcher, it was a virtual tie for the best opening of a movie he's starred in, alongside the romantic comedies "Guess Who" and "What Happens in Vegas."
The film cost Paramount and its financing partners Spyglass Entertainment and Cold Spring Pictures only about $25 million to produce, meaning it should be a modest success based on its debut.
Future performance will depend more on younger audiences, as those under 25 gave it an average grade of A-minus, according to market research firm CinemaScore. Moviegoers older than 25 gave it a B.
The previous weekend's two new movies had typical drops, indicating that word-of-mouth is neither good enough to make them long-lasting hits nor bad enough to make them sink quickly. Receipts for the Seth Rogen action-comedy "The Green Hornet" declined 46% to $18.1 million, bringing its box-office total to a respectable $63.4 million. The Kevin James-Vince Vaughn adult comedy "The Dilemma" dropped 45% to $9.7 million for a soft but not terrible $33.4-million total.
"The King's Speech" demonstrated that it continues to be the hot indie drama of the moment as ticket sales didn't decline at all from the previous weekend, repeating at $9.2 million, a sign of extraordinary word-of-mouth. Even accounting for the 137 new theaters the Weinstein Co. added to the run of the historical drama, ticket sales at existing locations were down only 9%. Its domestic box-office total is now a strong $58.6 million.
The Mark Wahlberg boxing drama "The Fighter" also had a very strong hold, dropping only 11% to $4.5 million and increasing its total domestic box office to $73 million.
Both movies, along with others including "Black Swan" that are still in theaters, will look for a box-office boost next weekend following the announcement of Academy Award nominations on Tuesday.
The unemployment drama "The Company Men," which stars Ben Affleck and Tommy Lee Jones and was directed by veteran television producer John Wells, opened to an unimpressive $767,328 at 106 theaters. It had a one-week run at two theaters in December to qualify for the 2010 Oscars.