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‘Underworld: Awakening’ takes big bite of box office

Audiences haven’t tired of Kate Beckinsale as a butt-kicking heroine — the fourth installment of Sony Pictures’ “Underworld” series debuted to healthy ticket sales over the weekend.

The vampire action-thriller “Underworld: Awakening” opened to $25.4 million, according to an estimate from the studio’s Screen Gems label. Meanwhile, George Lucas’ “Red Tails” — about the Tuskegee Airmen — exceeded industry expectations, selling $19.1-million worth of tickets.

“Haywire,” Steven Soderbergh’s action-thriller starring mixed martial arts star Gina Carano, had a less impressive opening of $9 million. That trailed the $10.5 million the 9/11 drama “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close” made as it expanded from limited release to theaters nationwide.

Consequently, ticket sales were up for the third week in a row in January compared with the same period in 2011, with a 32% increase this weekend from the same weekend last year.

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“Underworld: Awakening” cost Sony and Lakeshore Entertainment about $70 million to produce. The film is the first in the vampire series to be offered in 3-D, and 59% of those who saw the movie this weekend opted to buy the pricier ticket to see it in that format. Audiences liked the film, assigning it an average grade of A-, according to marketing firm CinemaScore.

“Awakening” had a better opening than the third entry in the series, “Underworld: Rise of the Lycans,” which started with $20.8 million in 2009. It still debuted with slightly less than the franchise’s second installment, “Underworld: Evolution,” which opened to $26.9 million in 2006. That film ultimately grossed more than any other picture in the series, totaling $62.3 million in sales by the end of its run.

“Red Tails,” starring Cuba Gooding Jr. and Terrence Howard, was a passion project for Lucas. Although 20th Century Fox is distributing the movie, the “Star Wars” filmmaker financed the $58-million production himself and is paying for the marketing costs.

The movie appealed largely to an African American audience this weekend, and 66% of the crowd was older than 25. Those who saw the film loved it, giving it an average grade of A. Like the new “Underworld” film, “Red Tails” has received overwhelmingly negative reviews.

The film took a long road to the multiplex, with news outlets reporting extensive reshoots as far back as two years ago.

“George has been focused on bringing this story to the screen because he firmly believes in the importance of this story, and once again, he’s proven everybody wrong,” said Fox’s senior vice president of distribution Chris Aronson. “It’s great validation for him, because even though critics responded negatively, the audience always decides the playability of the film.”

“Haywire” got the most love from critics, but audiences didn’t like the movie, giving it a dismal D+ CinemaScore. The movie — which cost Relativity Media $23 million to produce before tax rebates — resonated with young moviegoers, because 64% of the audience was younger than 35.

The movie got off to a far worse start than Soderbergh’s last film, “Contagion,” the global pandemic thriller that debuted with $22.4 million last September.

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Since opening on Christmas Day, “Extremely Loud” had collected $671,502 from six theaters before the weekend began. Warner Bros. decided to wait to open the film nationwide in hopes of building on strong word-of-mouth, but the movie ended up garnering mixed reviews. Audiences responded well to it this weekend, assigning it an average grade of A-.

The movie played to an older demographic, with 82% of the crowd over 25. It appealed to a broad audience across the country: The No. 1 theater in the U.S. was in Oklahoma City, and other top markets included cities as diverse as Boca Raton, Fla., and Chino Hills.

amy.kaufman@latimes.com


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