In this post-holidays, pre-Oscars lull in the Hollywood release cycle, we find unlikely success in a string of lesser-hyped theatrical releases -- some, against the odds, narrowly escaping the Direct-to-DVD ghetto. Overall, the box office was 30 percent higher than the same frame last year, despite snowstorms throughout much of the country. Take heart, Hollywood: America loves movies enough to dig out their cars! (This week.)
1. Underworld Awakening (Screen Gems/Sony Pictures): $25.4 million in 3,078 theaters
The franchise single-handedly responsible for making Kate Beckinsale the undisputed B-movie queen of the early-21st Century (sorry, Milla Jovovich) returns from a three-year hiatus, and not surprisingly, the epic war between Draculas and Wolfmans still rages on. $25 million is an extremely robust opening haul for a dusty franchise, boosted partially by inflated 3D and IMAX ticket prices of up to $18.50 per person, as well as the legions of action-fantasy fans who prefer their vampires sans sparkle.
2. Red Tails (LucasFilm/Fox): $19.1 million in 2,512 theaters
George Lucas has been trying to get the story of the Tuskegee Airmen’s aerial daring in WWII on screens since 1988, but was repeatedly turned down by the major studios. Well, George is having the last laugh, as the film, which played strongly among African-American audiences, outperformed all expectations. Lucas, who executive produced but did not direct the movie, will now celebrate by releasing a retrofitted 3D version in which star Terrence Howard is replaced by a dead-eyed CGI effect, just as he'd always pictured it in his mind.
3. Contraband (Universal): $12.2 million in 2,870 theaters
The big winner of the MLK Day weekend fell a steep 50 percent in its second week out. Star Mark Wahlberg received some heat recently for telling Men's Journal, "If I was on [doomed 9-11 United Flight 93] with my kids, it wouldn't have went down like it did. There would have been a lot of blood in that first-class cabin and then me saying, 'OK, we're going to land somewhere safely, don't worry.'" Alas, we shall never know if he was right, but can take some comfort in seeing his action-hero prowess play out in Contraband, the making of which almost certainly bore some real-life dangers of its own.
4. Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close (Warner Bros.): $10.5 million in 2,630 theaters
Speaking of 9-11, the critically trounced adaptation of Jonathan Safran Foer's book about the child of a 9-11 victim expanded to wide-release. Knowing what we know now, however, one can't help but wonder how its reception might have fared had Mark Wahlberg been cast in the role that ultimately went to Tom Hanks.
5. Haywire (Relativity): $9 million in 2,439 theaters
Considering one-man movie studio Steven Soderbergh managed to squeeze out this small-budget actioner during a four-hour break between a bikram yoga class and therapy session, $9 million is more impressive than it sounds. Then again, even Soderbergh's slighter films attract major talent, and a film like this becomes a good barometer of just how well the new crop of marquee testosterone like Channing Tatum and Michael Fassbender can open. In this case, not so well. Read our review of Haywire here.
16. The Descendants (Fox Searchlight): $2.4 million in 560 theaters
17. The Artist (Weinstein Co.): $2.4 million in 662 theaters
What exactly is a Golden Globe worth? It would seem about $2.4 million in the current market.