American audiences were in the mood to support the troops as the Navy SEAL film Act of Valor ruled the Oscar frame with impressive results. Tyler Perry and Jennifer Aniston both saw some of the worst openings of their careers with their new offerings Good Deeds and Wanderlust, respectively, while Amanda Seyfried proved that she can’t open a film on her own as her latest picture Gone was dead on arrival. Top Academy Award hopefuls continued to see respectable business outside the top ten from movie fans eager to see the likely winners before Sunday night’s big ceremony.

Relativity Media enjoyed its second overperforming number one hit in four months with the military actioner Act of Valor which exceeded expectations debuting to an estimated $24.7M. The bold experimental film featuring active duty Navy SEALs acting in a fictional story averaged a muscular $8,128 from 3,039 theaters and finished well ahead of all competing films. A heavy male-skewing marketing push that tapped into American patriotism worked well allowing the R-rated entry to open better than most other action vehicles this year. Critics and paying audiences had vastly different opinions, though, as reviews were mostly negative while moviegoers gave a glowing A CinemaScore grade.

Valor and its CIA rescue operation plot played heavily to men as 71% of the crowd was male, according to studio research. 60% was 25 and older while 63% was Caucasian. Four pricey TV spots airing throughout Super Bowl Sunday were key ingredients to reaching the target audience and the investment seemed to have paid off. The film was produced for $12M and acquired for $13M by Relativity which also backed it with aggressive marketing support. Releasing a film featuring real-life American heroes in harm’s way during a time when politicians are bickering during a nasty election season may also have been a good move to lure people into theaters for some home-grown, testosterone-filled entertainment.

Tyler Perry took second place with his latest film Good Deeds which debuted to an estimated $16M from 2,132 locations for a $7,505 average. Though a solid performance, it was the second worst opening ever for the filmmaker beating out only 2007’s Daddy’s Little Girls which bowed to $11.2M after a Wednesday launch. Perry has now directed eleven films over the past six years and his best results come from when he plays his popular Madea character. In Good Deeds, he played a new character and essentially anchored the film on his own with just himself on the poster while co-star Thandie Newton got much less visibility. The continued strength of Denzel Washington’s Safe House, which months ago was never expected to be in double digit millions in its third weekend, also may have been a factor. Most of Perry’s non-Madea films have opened near the $20M mark.

Posting another low decline for the second weekend in a row was the adventure hit Journey 2: The Mysterious Island with an estimated $13.5M, off only 32%. The Warner Bros. release has now banked $76.7M in North America to date, a healthy 27% ahead of its 2008 predecessor starring Brendan Fraser.

Denzel Washington came within striking distance of scoring another $100M blockbuster this weekend as his crime thriller Safe House grossed an estimated $11.4M, down 52%, raising the cume to $98.1M for Universal. Smashing nine digits on Saturday was The Vow which pulled in an estimated $10M for a 57% drop. The Sony release has upped its sum to $103M making it the second $100M+ grosser for Channing Tatum after 2009’s G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra and the fourth for Rachel McAdams, though the first one for her as an anchor.

Faring worse was Nicolas Cage’s 3D comic sequel Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance which tumbled 60% to an estimated $8.8M in its sophomore session. With $37.8M to date, look for a $50M finish which would be less than half of the $115.8M of its 2007 predecessor which did not have 3D surcharges in its total. For those moviegoers wanting to combine the violence of Cage’s film and the romance of Rachel’s pic there was Reese Witherspoon’s This Means War which settled into seventh place with an estimated $8.5M. Falling 51% in its second weekend, the Fox release has collected $33.6M in ten days and should end up at $50-55M.

After co-starring in two $100M+ grossers last year, the usually reliable Jennifer Aniston suffered one of the worst openings of her career in a lead role of a wide release with the raunchy comedy Wanderlust. Co-starring Paul Rudd, the R-rated pic bowed to an estimated $6.6M from 2,002 theaters for a weak $3,310 average. Earning fairly positive reviews, the tale of a married Manhattan couple discovering life on a hippie commune performed exactly like the 2009 couple-makes-radical-lifestyle-change flop Did You Hear About the Morgans? featuring Hugh Grant and Sarah Jessica Parker. That film opened to just $6.6M too. Wanderlust failed to reach the range of Rudd’s recent R-rated comedy projects I Love You, Man and Role Models which each debuted near the $18M mark. A bad title for the $30M+ production didn’t help either. Women made up 57% of the crowd, 61% were 30 and older, and the CinemaScore grade was a disappointing B-.

Also rejected by audiences was Amanda Seyfried’s kidnapping thriller Gone which debuted to only $5M, according to estimates, from 2,186 locations for a dull $2,287 average. The Summit release featured no other major names and Seyfried’s biggest career hits have come from films with big name co-stars so few found it necessary to pay top dollar to see this one in theaters. Plus the target audience of young females are still enamored by her Dear John co-star Channing Tatum who continues to pull in solid business with Vow which did more than twice the business this weekend despite being in its third frame. Reviews for Gone were dreadful, the CinemaScore was a poor C+, and the audience skewed 64% female and 61% 18 and older.

Disney’s Miyazaki import The Secret World of Arrietty declined by only 30% in its second round grossing an estimated $4.5M for a $14.7M total after ten days. A $25-28M final could result.

Audiences continued to catch up on the top Oscar contenders and potential winners. Frontrunner The Artist added 158 screens and jumped up 23% to an estimated $3M upping the cume to $31.9M. The Weinstein Co. release stands to benefit in the weeks ahead if it wins the top awards although a black-and-white silent film from French filmmakers will only go so far with mainstream America. The pic has added $19.8M to its cume since the nominations came out.

Even if it loses the major trophies, Fox Searchlight’s The Descendants will still be happy with the fact that it grossed more money between nomination morning and awards night than any other Best Picture candidate. This weekend saw a 25% drop to an estimated $2.2M for a $78.5M total, $27.2M of which came since it earned its Oscar nods. Martin Scorsese’s Hugo added another round of cash to its total over the past month, however it still is far from where a movie with a budget of its size would want to be at towards the end of its domestic run. The Paramount title slipped 5% to an estimated $1.6M lifting the cume to $69.4M, $13.5M of which came since being nominated.

The top ten films grossed an estimated $109M which was up 18% from last year when Hall Pass opened in the top spot with $13.5M; and up 5% from 2010 when Shutter Island remained at number one in its second weekend with $22.7M.

This week at the movies, we’ve got real American heroes (Act of Valor, starring Roselyn Sanchez and Alex Veadov), a wacky commune (Wanderlust, starring Jennifer Aniston and Paul Rudd), a soul-sick businessman (Tyler Perry’s Good Deeds, starring Tyler Perry and Thandie Newton), and a mysterious disappearance (Gone, starring Amanda Seyfried and Daniel Sunjata). What do the critics have to say?



Act of Valor

28%

Act of Valor is a fictionalized action film featuring real-life Navy SEALs, but critics say it’s not a particularly good one; it’s an over-adrenalized series of (literally) explosive set-pieces that never finds the humanity within these heroes. The film follows our most elite soldiers on a secret, globe-trotting mission to neutralize a terrorist threat; along the way, we learn a little about how the SEALs go about their business. No one can doubt the bravery and sacrifice of the Navy SEALs, but the pundits say the Act of Valor has more in common with video games like Call of Duty — its hyperkinetic action scenes bulldoze storytelling and character development, and we’re left with an odd, unsatisfying tribute to a group of patriots who deserve better.



Wanderlust

59%

If a movie simply makes us laugh, we’re likely to overlook its faults. Such is the case with Wanderlust — critics say this zany fish-out-of-water comedy isn’t the most disciplined film in the world, but it’s warm and often inspired in its absurdity. Facing financial ruin, George (Paul Rudd) and his wife Linda (Jennifer Aniston) leave the comfy environs of Manhattan to live with his brother in Atlanta. On the way, however, they stumble upon a commune and decide they kinda like it; ribald hilarity ensues. The pundits say Wanderlust isn’t much more than the sum of its parts, but those parts are often very funny, as the game cast works together to create moments of genuine lunacy.



Tyler Perry’s Good Deeds

36%

As is often the case with Tyler Perry‘s films, Good Deeds was not screened for critics prior to its release. Perry stars as Wesley Deeds, a successful but dissatisfied businessman who snaps out of his rut after befriending Lindsey (Thandie Newton), an unlucky single mom who works in his building. Time to guess that Tomatometer!



Gone

12%

It appears the people behind Gone feared that critics wouldn’t go along with their movie, since it didn’t screen before hitting theaters. Amanda Seyfried stars as Jill, who once escaped a kidnapping attempt. But now that her sister has been abducted, she suspects a serial killer is behind the crimes. Once again, guess the Tomatometer!

Also opening this week in limited release:

  • The Fairy, a Belgian comedy about a young woman who claims she can grant wishes, is at 100 percent.
  • The Forgiveness of Blood, a drama about a young man who’s caught in the middle of a blood feud between families in his small town, is at 83 percent.
  • Tomorrow, When the War Began, a thriller about a group of Australian teens who must defend their homeland against a surprise invasion, is at 64 percent.

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