Martin Scorsese, Leonardo DiCaprio and a set of gothic thrills proved to be a huge draw at the box office this weekend, as "Shutter Island," Paramount's psychological thriller based on Dennis Lehane's bestselling novel, earned $40.2 million domestically, according to the studio.
The number is the best-ever opening for director Scorsese and star DiCaprio, the latter of whom had reached the $30-million mark only once (with "Catch Me If You Can," more than seven years ago). Many box-office experts had predicted an opening in the low-mid $30s, with any gross over $35 million considered a notable success.
But perhaps an even more decisive factor than its two high-profile collaborators was the calendar. Paramount moved the film out of a crowded October to this slot in February, where it was the only new wide release this weekend.
The film also rode a wave of promotion in high-profile television events.
"As we got into the movie and saw how commercial it was, we thought we could go for a broader audience than the October release, when it would have been positioned as an adult drama and academy movie," said Paramount Vice Chairman Rob Moore.
"In this release window, you have giant promotional opportunities like the Super Bowl and the Winter Olympics."
While it raised some eyebrows at the time, the gambit worked.
While "Shutter Island" didn't come close to the $56.4 million that "Valentine's Day" earned over three days last weekend, it did rival the $41 million of "Tyler Perry's Madea Goes to Jail" (2009) for the second-biggest February opening in three years -- and as an R-rated film, no less. (Paramount also earned $9.1 million internationally from an assortment of territories, including Spain, Russia and the Netherlands.)
Though a big success in its opening weekend, "Shutter Island" was not inexpensive to produce.
The movie cost nearly $100 million to make, according to a person close to the production, although a Paramount spokesperson said that tax incentives from Massachusetts, where the film was shot, brought the final expenditure down to about $75 million.
The 1954-set story of a New England detective (DiCaprio) investigating a mysterious disappearance at an island-bound insane asylum also attracted a female audience that doesn't typically come out to genre films. Indeed, moviegoers were split almost evenly between men and women, as DiCaprio's presence helped boost the "Shutter Island" numbers among women.
The Scorsese pedigree was also likely part of the reason older viewers came out to the thriller in droves, as the numbers were also evenly split between filmgoers above and below age 25.
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Estimated sales in the U.S. and Canada:
-- Movie 3-day gross Percentage change Total Days in -- (studio) (millions) from last weekend (millions) release
1 "Shutter $40.2 NA $40.2 3 Island" (Paramount)
2 "Valentine's $17.2 - 69% $ 87.4 10 Day" (Warner Bros./New Line)
3 "Avatar" $16.1 - 32% $688.0 66 (Fox/Dune/In genious)
4 "Percy $15.3 - 51% $58.8 10 Jackson and the Olympians" (Fox/Dune/In genious)
5 "The $9.8 - 69% $50.3 10 Wolfman" (Universal/R elativity)
6 "Dear John" $7.3 - 52% $66.0 17 (Sony/Relati vity)
7 "The Tooth $4.5 - 26% $49.9 31 Fairy" (Fox/Walden)
8 "Crazy $3.0 - 32% $21.6 66 Heart" (Fox Searchlight)
9 "From Paris $2.5 - 54% $21.2 17 With Love" (Lionsgate/E uropa)
10 "Edge of $2.2 - 54% $40.3 24 Darkness" (Company) *--*
Sources: Times research and Hollywood.com Box Office