(EW.com) -- Holy moly, America.
For the first time since Christmas weekend in 2008, four movies debuted to more than $20 million each this weekend: "The Vow," "Safe House," "Journey 2: The Mysterious Island," and "Star Wars: Episode I -- The Phantom Menace 3D."
The first three of those four films far exceeded industry expectations, helping to make this the biggest non-holiday February weekend ever. The box office was also up around 30 percent compared to the same weekend last year.
"The Vow," starring Rachel McAdams and Channing Tatum, led the way with a hearty $41.7 million -- the strongest opening so far this year. That also marks the best debut ever for the Sony-owned label Screen Gems (beating "Dear John's" $30.5 million), which produced the film with Spyglass Entertainment.
With Valentine's Day around the corner, audiences were clearly in the mood for love, especially considering that "The Vow" was the first major romantic drama to hit theaters since November's "The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn -- Part 1." According to Sony, 72 percent of "The Vow's" audience was female. The PG-13 movie, which cost $30 million to produce, received an okay "B" rating from CinemaScore graders.
Not too far behind was the Denzel Washington thriller "Safe House," which took in $39.3 million. That represents the second-best opening ever for Washington, after 2007′s "American Gangster." According to CinemaScore, 72 percent of moviegoers said the actor was their reason for buying a ticket, confirming Washington's status as one of the few performers who can guarantee a solid turnout.
The R-rated movie, which cost $85 million and also stars Ryan Reynolds and Vera Farmiga, attracted a diverse crowd. African Americans made up 38 percent of the audience, followed by Caucasians (31 percent) and Hispanics (23 percent). The film's audience was evenly split fifty-fifty between men and women, and CinemaScore participants gave it an "A-" rating.
"Journey 2: The Mysterious Island," which saw Dwayne Johnson take over leading-man duties from Brendan Fraser, surprised the industry with $27.6 million. By comparison, its 2008 predecessor "Journey to the Center of the Earth" opened to $21 million. Of particular note, the PG-rated sequel rose a massive 94 percent from Friday to Saturday, indicating that it was the movie of choice for family audiences. "Journey 2" also performed particularly well in 3-D, with three-dimensional showings accounting for 74 percent of its gross. The $79 million film received an "A-" grade from CinemaScore moviegoers.
The only new movie that didn't overperform this weekend was the 3-D re-release of "Star Wars: Episode I -- The Phantom Menace," which collected $23 million. The film was front-loaded, dropping 1 percent from Friday to Saturday as "Star Wars" enthusiasts rushed out to see it opening day. But family audiences clearly opted for "Journey 2" over Jar Jar and company.
Still, $23 million is nothing to get upset about, Anakin, especially for a re-release. The figure tops last month's 3-D re-release of "Beauty and the Beast", which debuted to $17.8 million. And "The Phantom Menace" jumped past "E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial" and Shrek 2 on the all-time domestic list. With a total of $454.1 million, the movie is now the fifth-highest grossing domestic release ever (not adjusted for inflation, of course), and it will soon pass "Star Wars" ($461 million) to settle into the No. 4 spot.
Among holdovers, "Chronicle" dropped only 44 percent for $12.3 million. That's an impressive hold for a "found-footage" film; by comparison, "The Devil Inside" plummeted 76 percent and "Paranormal Activity 3" slid 66 percent. The PG-13 movie has so far earned $40.2 million on a $12 million budget. And "The Woman in Black," starring Daniel Radcliffe, fell 51 percent for $10.3 million -- a respectable decline for a horror film.
In limited release, the Woody Harrelson cop drama Rampart opened to a so-so $65,100 at five theaters. Two Oscar nominees, "In Darkness" (for foreign-language film) and "Chico & Rita" (for animated feature), debuted to $27,600 and $21,700, respectively.
1. "The Vow" -- $41.7 mil
2. "Safe House" -- $39.3 mil
3. "Journey 2: The Mysterious Island" -- $27.6 mil
4. "Star Wars: Episode I -- The Phantom Menace 3D" -- $23.0 mil
5. "Chronicle" -- $12.3 mil
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