By Amy Kaufman
11:41 AM CST, February 18, 2013
Presidents Day was almost a bad one for "A Good Day to Die Hard."
The fifth installment in the Bruce Willis action franchise narrowly won the holiday weekend at the box office, just stealing No. 1 from "Identity Thief," the Melissa McCarthy comedy holdover. The latest "Die Hard" flick collected a so-so $24.8 million over the weekend and has grossed a total of $37.5 million since debuting late Wednesday, according to estimates from distributor 20th Century Fox. After its robust opening last weekend, "Identity Thief" only saw its ticket sales tumble 32% to $23.4 million, raising its overall total to $75.2 million.
Heading into the weekend, pre-release audience polling suggested that "A Good Day to Die Hard" would gross as much as $55 million in its first five days in theaters. Fox predicted that the movie would collect a softer sum of around $40 million during that time period. Instead, the movie came in below everyone's predictions and was almost showed up by a far less expensive film, "Safe Haven." The Nicholas Sparks adaptation, which hit theaters on Valentine's Day, pocketed a surprisingly strong $34 million over the five-day holiday.
The animated 3-D kids' movie "Escape From Planet Earth," meanwhile, sold a solid $21 million worth of tickets since debuting Friday. The weekend's remaining new release, "Beautiful Creatures," flopped. It was expected that the supernatural romance would gross upwards of $20 million between Thursday and Monday; instead, the movie collected just $11.5 million.
Overall, ticket sales were down 10% to $140 million compared with the same three-day period last year. It was also far short of the highest-grossing Presidents Day weekend in 2010, when the chick flick "Valentine's Day" led the box office to a whopping $239.3 million in receipts.
"A Good Day to Die Hard" came in about $10 million behind the fourth film in the series, "Live Free or Die Hard," which debuted with $33.4 million in June 2007. Still, the latest movie has a good shot at ultimately exceed the fourth's global take of $383.5 million. This weekend, the fifth "Die Hard" opened in 63 foreign markets and grossed $61.5 million. The film performed best in the United Kingdom, where it collected $7.6 million, and has yet to open in a handful of countries including China and France.
In the U.S., critics loathed the film, which follows Willis' John McClane as he heads to Russia to reunite with his CIA agent son (Jai Courtney). Those who saw the picture this weekend — 65% of whom were over the age of 25 — seemed to get what they were looking for, however, assigning the movie an average grade of B+. (That was the grade all of the weekend's new movies received, according to market research firm CinemaScore, except for "Beautiful Creatures," which got a B.)
Willis, 57, has long been a reliable box-office draw when he appears in action movies. Even as part of ensemble films such as "The Expendables" and "Red," he has found success in the genre.
"I think he has had a nice balance or work outside of being a hard-core action guy, and that has proven his longevity," said Chris Aronson, president of domestic distribution for Fox, which financed the movie for $92 million. "Guys like Stallone and Schwarzenegger have been kind of one-trick ponies, but Bruce can be a chameleon."
"Safe Haven" was also critically panned, but that didn't matter to couples looking for a romantic movie to see on Valentine's Day. The film, about a young woman (Julianne Hough) who finds refuge from an abusive relationship with a widower (Josh Duhamel) in a quiet North Carolina town, cost Relativity Media about $28 million to produce.
While the Hough-Duhamel film couldn't top Sparks' February 2010 hit "Dear John," the author's eighth Hollywood adaptation will be yet another success story for the novelist. As expected, his latest movie did well largely because of the young women who flocked to see it: 71% of the opening weekend crowd was female, and 68% of the audience was under the age of 25.
"Nicholas Sparks definitely has a connection with that audience — he's got the secret formula," said Kyle Davies, Relativity's president of theatrical distribution, noting that the film did especially well in "the heartland" — cities like St. Louis, Oklahoma City and Nashville.
Though it is the subject of an ongoing lawsuit, "Escape From Planet Earth" managed to escape any drama at the box office this weekend. The film about two sibling aliens traveling to Earth, which includes celebrity voices including Jessica Alba and Jane Lynch, capitalized on the family audience at the box office. There hasn't been a kids movie in theaters since December, so it's likely that parents with children were eager to see a PG-rated film at the multiplex.
Meanwhile, the Weinstein Co. is still facing a lawsuit filed by writer-director Tony Leech and film producer Brian Inerfeld, who claim the studio's founders Bob and Harvey Weinstein "sabotaged" the movie.
As for why "Beautiful Creatures" failed, distributor Warner Bros. had few answers Monday morning. The studio and its financier Alcon Entertainment -- which spent roughly $50 million to make the film — were hoping the movie based on a popular young-adult book series would be championed by young girls. About 67% of those who turned up to see the movie over the weekend were female, but the bad news for the movie's backers is that there just weren't enough of them.
“Unfortunately, it just didn’t find an audience,” said Jeff Goldstein, Warner Bros.’ executive vice president of domestic distribution. “I think the movie just kind of missed. Somehow, it didn’t resonate with its core group.”