"Dear John" rode a surprisingly strong wave of support from the fickle but fervent teenage girl audience to the highest opening ever for a movie on Super Bowl weekend, knocking "Avatar" out of the top spot in the process.
"Dear John," Hollywood's fifth adaptation of a tear-jerker Nicholas Sparks novel, sold $32.4 million worth of tickets in the U.S. and Canada from Friday through Sunday, according to an estimate from distributor Sony Pictures.
That's significantly above last week's estimates based on pre-release polling, which predicted that "Avatar" would stay ahead of the Sparks film. James Cameron's 3-D blockbuster ended up declining 25% on its eighth weekend to $23.6 million. Combined with the $76 million it collected in 120 foreign countries this weekend, "Avatar" increased its worldwide total to more than $2.2 billion.
The John Travolta over-the-top action flick "From Paris With Love" was a disappointment for Lionsgate, opening to just $8.1 million.
"Dear John," which stars young actors Channing Tatum and Amanda Seyfried, posted the highest Super Bowl opening, not accounting for ticket price inflation, thanks almost entirely to a single demographic: teen and college-age girls. The audience of the Lasse Hallström-directed film was 84% female and 64% under 21, according to exit polls.
Though pictures that appeal to young women can be hugely successful, as evidenced by "The Twilight Saga: New Moon," several recent ones aimed at that crowd have generated less than impressive results, such as "Leap Year" and "The Lovely Bones."
"[Sony] did an incredible job with marketing by never straying from the core audience of the picture," said Geoff Ammer, president of marketing for Relativity Media, which financed "Dear John."
"We knew it would be red hot when the trailer [played well to audiences] before 'Twilight,' " said Sony distribution president Rory Bruer.
Movies that appeal to only one demographic group often fall off fast at the box office, but Ammer said he's hopeful the audience for "Dear John" will expand to older women in the coming weeks. Those who saw the film opening day gave it an average grade of B, according to market research firm CinemaScore, meaning word-of-mouth should be good but not great.
The low-cost movie should be very profitable for Relativity as well as Sony.
Relativity said that "Dear John" cost $25 million to make, though one person close to the production who requested anonymity because budget details are confidential said the cost was $35 million.
Relativity picked up "Dear John" when it was dropped soon before production was scheduled to start by New Line Cinema. The Warner Bros. unit will receive about 7% of the movie's revenue in return for its early investment.
Lionsgate had hoped for a much bigger debut for "From Paris With Love," closer to that of "Taken," which was also directed by Pierre Morel. That Liam Neeson action movie opened with $24.7 million on Super Bowl weekend last year. The independent studio paid $12 million to financier Europa Corp. to distribute "From Paris" in the U.S. and several foreign countries.
Last weekend's two new movies, the Mel Gibson thriller "Edge of Darkness" and romantic comedy "When in Rome," failed to recover from their relatively soft starts. Their ticket sales fell by 59% and 55%, respectively.
Grosses for every movie in theaters this weekend were depressed by snow in parts of the East Coast as well as the Super Bowl, which led to lower-than-usual movie theater attendance on Sunday.