Los Angeles - Love triumphed over action at the weekend box office with a No 1 debut for the romantic drama The Vow.
Studio estimates Sunday show that the love story starring Rachel McAdams and Channing Tatum took in $41.7m to come in ahead of two new action tales and the first 3D Star Wars reissue.
Landing a close second with $39.3m was Denzel Washington and Ryan Reynolds' action thriller Safe House. Coming in solidly at No 3 was Dwayne Johnson's family action sequel Journey 2: The Mysterious Island with $27.6m.
Valentine from Hollywood
And adding to George Lucas' riches was the 3D premiere of Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace, which was No 4 with $23m. That raises the lifetime domestic total for Phantom Menace to $454.1m.
This was the first non-holiday weekend that four movies opened with more than $20m each, said Paul Dergarabedian, analyst for box-office tracker Hollywood.com. The only other time when four new releases did that well was over Christmas weekend in 2008, he said.
"It felt like a summer weekend to me," Dergarabedian said. "This was like a great big valentine from Hollywood to the audience, or from the audience to Hollywood."
The four big debuts maintained Hollywood's strong business during the normally sleepy winter. Overall domestic revenues totaled $193m, up 19.3% from the same weekend last year, when Just Go with It led with $30.5m.
So far this year, domestic receipts are at $1.2bn, 19% ahead of 2011's.
"I really believe people are in a movie-going mode," said Nikki Rocco, head of distribution for Universal, which released Safe House.
There have been great choices so far this year. I feel honestly that the mild weather has helped them enjoy wintertime for what it is. They're not stuck inside, they're not snowed in. Maybe people like to get out of the home rather than cocooning."
'A great date movie'
Timed to Valentine's Day on Tuesday, The Vow stars McAdams as a woman who awakens in the hospital after a car wreck with no memory of her husband (Tatum) and the last five years of her life.
Women accounted for 72% of the audience for The Vow, whose receipts in just its first two days exceeded the movie's $30m production budget.
"There are certain movies that women, no pun intended, vow they are going to see, and this is that kind of movie," said Rory Bruer, head of distribution for Sony, whose Screen Gems banner released The Vow.
"I do think a lot of men are going to be seeing it on February 14. It's a great date movie, and I think the men who do see it on Valentine's Day are going to be thoroughly entertained."
The Vow added $9.7m in 20 overseas markets to bring its worldwide total to $51.4m.
The audience was split evenly between males and females for Safe House, which stars Washington as a CIA traitor who turns himself in and winds up on the run with his rookie minder (Reynolds).
Safe House also took in $10.2m from 25 overseas territories to lift its worldwide total to $49.5m.
Journey 2 stars Johnson, Michael Caine, Josh Hutcherson and Vanessa Hudgens in a follow-up to the 2008 hit Journey to the Center of the Earth, a modern take on Jules Verne's sci-fi classic. The sequel gives a similar twist to Verne's The Mysterious Island.
The movie started modestly Friday, behind The Phantom Menace. But family crowds swamped theatres for Journey 2 on Saturday.
"For us to win that family battle this weekend was a tremendous coup for the film," said Dan Fellman, head of distribution for Warner Bros, which released Journey 2.
The PG-rated Journey 2 filled out that family niche on a weekend that gave viewers wide choices.
"I've always felt the market is healthiest when there's something for everyone, and there is something for everyone now. The Vow has a specific audience, Safe House has a specific audience, Journey 2 found its audience. And Star Wars is Star Wars," said Chris Aronson, head of distribution for 20th Century Fox, which released Lucas' sci-fi franchise. "It's one of those really rare jewels in the film universe."
While business was strong for The Phantom Menace, it came up short of the $30.2m debut for last September's 3D re-release of The Lion King.
The Phantom Menace reissue added $20.5m in 61 overseas markets, bringing the 3D version's worldwide haul to $43.5m. Added to the $924m global total from its original 1999 release, the movie is climbing toward the $1bn mark.
Release dates for 3D versions of the remaining five Star Wars flicks have not been announced, though the initial plan for Fox and Lucas was to put out one a year.
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