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The Weekend Box Office: Explain Yourself, America

The pre-Valentine’s Day weekend was an unexpectedly big one at the box office, with four new movies bringing in over $20 million in receipts — only the second time in history that such an event has occurred, and the first time, as some outlets are reporting, that it’s happened on a non-holiday weekend. (We’ll let you decide whether a few days before Valentine’s Day counts as a “holiday weekend” or not. I’ll refrain from comment, in the interest of not upsetting anyone on the eve of said maybe-holiday.) What’s even more remarkable about this considerable fiscal accomplishment is that it was achieved with four movies that no one here at Flavorpill can actually imagine going to see. Neat trick, Hollywood!

Topping the charts was The Vow, which pulled in $41.7 million dollars — an astonishing haul, really, considering that its plot description made it sound, as best as we can tell, like 50 First Dates played straight. But this one was all about timing; the release date strategically positioned it as the pre-Valentine date movie, while the headlining of The Notebook’s Rachel McAdams and Dear John’s Channing Tatum seemed a calculated move to hoodwink Nicholas Sparks fans into thinking this was a Nicholas Sparks movie. (It’s not, but they’re an easily fooled bunch.)

Strong in second (with $39.3 million) was Safe House, the Training-Day­-meets-Bourne movie with Denzel Washington and Ryan Reynolds. Our love for Mr. Washington has been well-documented, and Reynolds is a likable enough guy, but this one was never on our “must-see” list; it’s yet another page in this peculiar “middle-aged action hero” chapter of Denzel’s career, and the trailer and premise didn’t exactly hint at bold new directions in storytelling. Lemme guess: the originally antagonistic relationship between the jaded, morally ambiguous master spy and the young hotshot grows complicated by information about the older man’s motives, followed by a grudging respect for the young man’s skill and ingenuity? Just a wild guess.

Journey 2: The Mysterious Island (aka “the Michael Caine riding on a bumblebee movie”) brought in $27.55 million, topping the opening weekend gross of 2008’s Journey to the Center of the Earth, a movie that you may not have known even existed, much less warranted a sequel, am I right? Journey I (which is what I guess we should call it now?) opened with $20 million at the beginning of the current, lamentable 3D craze, so it benefited somewhat from novelty value; star Brendan Fraser chose not to return for the sequel, which replaced him with The Rock. So the Fraser-to-Rock exchange rate is apparently in the neighborhood of eight million bucks. Adjust your budgets accordingly, producers.

And then, of course, we come to the fourth place winner, Star Wars: Episode 1- The Phantom Menace 3D, which bled an additional $23 million out of Star Wars fans, in spite of the fact that a) it’s a movie everyone has seen, b) it’s a movie that almost everyone agrees is really not very good at all, and c) its release was preceded by yet another chapter in the continuing saga of Star-Wars-fans-as-abused-wives-on-a-Cops-rerun, when creator George Lucas came out last week and said (insisted) that no, no, Han never shot first, you’re just remembering it wrong. And the fans howled and screeched, and then went out Friday night and gave Daddy George twenty more bucks so they could see his terrible prequel again, but this time with stuff cold comin’ out the screen, woo hoo!

So there’s your top four, all rolling out of the weekend with more than 20 million clams in their wheelbarrows, and while we know, we know that box office success is seldom (if ever) indicative of actual quality, this is a head-scratching bunch of runaway box office successes. Who went to these movies? Who wanted to see them? Tell us, please. These questions need answers. Do it for humanity.

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