Melissa McCarthy stars in "Identity Thief," which was the No.… (Universal Pictures )
Melissa McCarthy stole the show at the box office this weekend, proving she has the star power to attract moviegoers to theaters even during a blizzard.
"Identity Thief," her comedy co-starring Jason Bateman, easily ran away with the weekend's No. 1 spot as it debuted with a robust $36.6 million, according to an estimate from distributor Universal Pictures. That was far more than the weekend's only other nationwide opener, "Side Effects," started off with. The Steven Soderbergh-directed thriller -- which the filmmaker has said is his last movie to hit the big screen -- took in an underwhelming $10 million on its first weekend in theaters.
Despite industry concerns that a huge winter storm would keep East Coasters away from the box office, "Identity Thief" took in about $10 million more on its opening weekend than pre-release audience polling had suggested. That's the biggest opening of the year thus far, beating Universal's "Mama," the horror film that debuted with $28.4 million in January. Overall, however, ticket sales declined a major 45% compared with the same three-day period last year, when Valentine's Day-related movies opened over the weekend.
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In "Identity Thief," Melissa McCarthy stars as a gregarious criminal who steals the credit card information of a man played by Bateman. Though critics loathed the picture -- the New York Observer's Rex Reed even snarking about McCarthy's weight in his review -- those who saw the movie this weekend didn't hate it. The opening weekend crowd -- 57% of whom were over the age of 30 -- assigned the film an average grade of B, according to market research firm CinemaScore.
McCarthy seemed to be a driving factor for the film's success. After appearing for years in supporting roles in romantic comedies and the television drama "Gilmore Girls," the actress landed on the national radar after her performance in 2011's "Bridesmaids." Her turn as a masculine, foul-mouthed bridesmaid earned her an Academy Award nomination and also helped her land her first leading film roles. (This summer, she will star opposite Sandra Bullock in the buddy comedy "The Heat.")
“She is an absolute favorite of audiences,” said Nikki Rocco, president of domestic distribution for Universal, which co-financed the movie for $35 million with Elliot Inc. “She’s a huge star, and has become an absolute darling particularly in middle America, where the film did very strong business.”
"Side Effects," meanwhile, also received a B CinemaScore from moviegoers, even though critics were enamored with the picture. The movie centers on a psychologist (Jude Law) who struggles to find the right medication to treat a depressed patient (Rooney Mara).
The film's debut isn't that bad for Soderbergh, whose films are not always reliable box office performers. While his last film, stripper flick "Magic Mike," was a massive sleeper hit grossing a total of $113.7 million last June, his movie "Haywire" flopped with just $18.9 million only five months prior. The Oscar-winning filmmaker has said he plans to retire post-"Side Effects" because he wants to explore other artistic endeavors, but that announcement didn't seem to matter all that much to audiences over the weekend.
Though the movie's opening wasn't particularly impressive, Open Road Entertainment should end up in decent financial shape because it did not finance the production. The company, owned by AMC Entertainment and Regal Entertainment, acquired the $30 million from Endgame Entertainment last year and is paying to market it.
In limited release, Paramount Pictures released a 3-D version of its 1986 Tom Cruise flick "Top Gun" to help promote the film's Blu-Ray opening this month. However, not that many people were interested in the marketing ploy, as the film collected $1.9 million from 300 screens for a per-theater average of $6,700.