"The Grey" Exceeds Expectations, "One for the Money" Loses Steam, Decent Holds for "Underworld: Awakening" and "Red Tails"

The weekend estimates are here, and there are a some surprises.

The Grey,” a survival thriller featuring fisticuffs between Liam Neeson and wild animals, did better than expected. It started Friday with an estimate of $5M-$6M, but the final figure ended up being $6.5M. Good reviews probably helped. When the weekend was done, it hauled in $20M, which is a few million better than what box office pundits have predicted.

The Grey

The opening of “The Grey” is on par with Liam Neeson’s previous thriller “Unknown,” which took in $6.7M on Friday and finished the weekend with $21.9M.

Neeson in a thriller has became pretty reliable at the box office. You can count on a $20M opening. His tall body frame and low, husky voice are made for action movies and thrillers.

Can’t say the same for Katherine Heigl and “One for the Money” though. The adaptation of Janet Evanovich’s bestselling novel pulled in $11.8M over the weekend, the higher end of expectations. It started off well on Friday with an estimated $4M-$5M, but when Friday was said and done, the final figure was on the low end of the estimate. And that’s with Groupon deals. Poor reviews eventually made its way to the masses.

“Money”’s $11.8M gross is a notch below Heigl’s previous two films and continues her downward spiral at the box office since hitting the A-list with Judd Apatow’s “Knocked Up.” I’m not sure if her agent’s to blame for her poor movie choices because she seems to be someone who has strong opinions and in charge of her career. I can’t imagine her agent pushing her around to do certain projects if she’s not interested. Irregardless, it’s probably time for a change - i.e. get a new agent.

Last weekend’s top two films - “Underworld: Awakening” and “Red Tails” held up decently for their respective genres. “Awakening,” which features the return of Kate Beckinsale in the role of ass-kicking vampire Selene, sucked in $12.5M in its second weekend for a 51% dropoff. That’s better than the 58% experienced by the second film “Underworld: Evolution,” which at $62.3M is the highest grossing of the series. After the second weekend, the latest outing is already $1M ahead of “Evolution” even though it opened lower.

The $70M budget of “Awakening” is also the largest of the series, and it looks like it might reach that figure at the box office when it’s all said and done. If that happens, it will also be the highest grossing of the series, so expect to see another one unless Beckinsale becomes pregnant again.

George Lucas’s “Red Tails” held up prety well for an action movie. It’s $10.4M gross this weekend is just a 45% dropoff from last weekend. Its cumulative gross so far is $33.8M. At its current pace, it’ll probably reach the $58M it took Lucas to make the film.

In his interview with the New York Times, Lucas mentions that if “Red Tails” open in the $20M range, then they’re “in the game.” It did $18.8M last weekend, better than what most box office pundits expected. At its current pace, I don’t think we’ll see sequels. However, it is a respectable outing for Lucas and proves that you can produce a big-budget Hollywood film featuring an ensemble of African-American actors and still make back your investment.

This upcoming weekend is the Super Bowl. Three movies will try to distract the nation from watching football: “The Woman in Black,” a horror film starring Daniel Ratcliffe; “Chronicle,” a superhero origin story with high school students; and “Big Miracle,” a save-the-whales movie starring Drew Barrymore and John krasinski. We’ll see how they do.

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