Not even the biggest television event of the year could shake 2012's winning streak at the box office, as ticket sales were up for the fifth consecutive weekend this year.
Despite the pull of the Super Bowl, three new films held their own at the multiplex on what is traditionally one of the slowest weekends of the year for the movie industry.
"Chronicle," a found-footage adventure about teenagers with superpowers, took the No. 1 spot with $22 million in domestic receipts, according to an estimate from distributor 20th Century Fox. The horror film "The Woman in Black," the first movie from "Harry Potter" star Daniel Radcliffe outside of the popular franchise, wasn't far behind with $21 million. But the inspirational drama "Big Miracle," about the plight of three California gray whales, could muster only a lackluster $8.5 million.
As a result of the better-than-expected box office business, ticket sales were up 37% compared to the 2011 Super Bowl weekend, said Hollywood.com.
"Chronicle" received the strongest reviews of any other film debuting this weekend, but audiences liked it slightly less than "Big Miracle." The superhero flick was given an average grade of B, according to market research firm CinemaScore, while the environmental picture scored an A-. "The Woman in Black" earned a less impressive B-.
Because "Chronicle" features a mostly unknown cast and is targeted at young males, Fox was projecting the film would make a only soft $8 million this weekend. But the low-budget movie, produced by the studio for only $12 million, fared better than expected largely in part because of young moviegoers. About 61% of those who saw the film this weekend were under 25, and 55% of the audience was male.
Overseas, "Chronicle" also claimed the No. 1 spot in a number of international markets, including the United Kingdom, Australia and Hong Kong. Of the 33 foreign countries where it debuted, the movie played best in the U.K., taking in $3.5 million.
"The Woman in Black" is by far the best opening ever for CBS Films, whose strongest debut had been the $12.2-million start by the romantic comedy "The Back-up Plan" in 2010. Of the six pictures the studio has released since early 2010, the Radcliffe movie also had the most positive reviews.
CBS Films paid $3 million to acquire the North American distribution rights for the film, which was financed by the U.K.-based distribution company Momentum Pictures for $13 million.
The movie's robust debut is a win for 22-year-old Radcliffe in his first attempt to open a studio film outside of the massively popular "Potter" franchise. Since that film series concluded with its eighth installment in July, the actor spent months on Broadway in a well-received turn in the musical "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying."
Radcliffe showed he could attract a diverse group of moviegoers to the multiplex as a leading man. It was expected that his young female fan base would show up to the scary film in droves, but the audience was more evenly split than many had predicted: 59% of the crowd was female and 57% was under 25.
"I think the history of the 'Harry Potter' series is so diverse that Daniel appeals to everybody," said Steven Friedlander, executive vice president of theatrical distribution for CBS Films. "I feel sort of sad that we were the ones who broke his amazing streak of eight No. 1 openings in a row, but I think these numbers prove that he has a long career ahead of him."
In fact, it was "Big Miracle" that proved most appealing to young women. The movie attracted an audience that was 68% female and 67% younger than 25.
The movie, starring Drew Barrymore and John Krasinski, is based on the true story of a 1988 rescue of three whales trapped under the ice in Alaska. Accordingly, the film did the briskest business in Anchorage, where two theaters brought in bigger ticket sales than any other cinemas in the country.
The movie had the biggest budget of any new film released this weekend, as Universal Pictures spent about $40 million to produce it. Unfortunately for the studio, it doesn't seem likely that "Big Miracle" will be able to replicate the success of last year's "Dolphin Tale," another family film about a struggling sea mammal. Last September, that Warner Bros. film opened to around $19 million and eventually grossed $72 million.