Updated 9:20 a.m. PT Feb. 4
"Chronicle" and "Woman in Black" are turning what was supposed to be a lackluster weekend at the box office into a battle for first place.
On Friday, the two new movies crushed their pre-release expectations.
Fox's "Chronicle" grossed an estimated $8.65 million while CBS Films' "Woman in Black" took an estimated $8.3 million.
Considering that Fox had expected high single-digits for the entire weekend -- though outside box-office watchers figured about $15 million -- and CBS was projecting $11 million for the whole weekend, opening day is beyond solid.
Both pictures are pretty much neck-and-neck for the No. 1 spot and on track to take in a touch more than $20 million each this weekend. The advantage still goes to "Chronicle" by a few hundred thousand dollars.
While Friday was great and Saturday is expected to remain robust, studios expect a major drop on Sunday, when all eyes will be on the Superbowl.
The other new movie at the box office this weekend is "Big Miracle," from Universal. That picture took in an estimated $2.26 million on Friday and is tracking to gross just short of $8 million for the weekend -- on par with expectations.
This is a weekend of low expectations at the box office.
Super Bowl weekend is about TV – not movies – and is traditionally one of the slowest box-office weekends of the year.
Super Bowl weekend 2011, for example, was the third-worst of the year. That weekend’s entire box office was $87.3 million – about half the opening weekend of “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows" alone. So studios have some cover if their movies don’t do especially well.
And how low are the expectations for this weekend’s three new releases?
Two PG-13 movies, Fox’s “Chronicle” and CBS Films’ “Woman In Black,” will fight it out for the No. 1 spot, while Universal’s “Big Miracle” will be lucky to take fourth place, behind last weekend’s champion, “The Grey.”
The advantage for the top spot belongs to Fox, but the studio is downplaying expectations, projecting that the film, directed by Josh Trank, probably will take in something in the high single-digits.
Also read: Exciting 'Chronicle' Could Have Skipped the Gimmicks
Less conservative box-office watchers outside Fox anticipate the movie, which cost about $12 million to make, could take in as much as $16 million, though the consensus is closer to $15 million.
The research firm NRG says there’s plenty of awareness about the movie: 52 percent of those polled told NRG they have heard of the movie. That’s an adequate number, but not nearly as good as the 68 percent “total awareness” score “The Woman in Black” received.
But 47 percent of men younger than 25 percent reported “definite” interest in seeing “Chronicle,” and 13 percent said it’s their first choice. Among young women, 40 percent report “definite” interest in “Chronicle.”
The found footage movie stars three mostly unknown actors as high school friends who develop superpowers. But it’s a touch darker than the synopsis might suggest.
The critics like it well enough: Rotten Tomatoes gives it an 87 percent rating, Metacritic gives it a 71 and Movie Review Intelligence gives it a 74.8.
It’s a fairly low-budget project for Fox – “Chronicle” cost about $12 million to make – so it doesn’t need huge numbers to work for the studio.
One thing to count on: The 2,909 locations showing “Chronicle” won’t be terribly crowded during the Super Bowl. Friday and Saturday are that movie’s key days.
While “Chronicle” goes after young men, CBS’s “Woman In Black” is aiming for a young female audience.
The movie stars Daniel Radcliffe, the young actor who brought Harry Potter to life.
And it’s likely to perform perfectly well for CBS Films, which paid $3 million for U.S. distribution rights to the film.
An $8 million weekend will push the picture into the black for CBS, and the studio expects it will take in around $11 million. Outside box-office watchers figure it will gross a few million more than that.
CBS Films has been promoting it on CBS and on the CW network, and Radcliffe has hyped it on “The Tonight Show,” “Ellen” and other television programs.
The movie is about a young lawyer who travels to a remote village where he encounters the ghost of a scornful woman.
It is getting reasonable reviews: Metacritic gives it a 60 percent, Rotten Tomatoes gives it a 69 and Movie Review Intelligence gives it a 68.6.
And its total awareness is the best of any of this week’s new movies: 68 percent of those surveyed by NRG reported that they knew of the movie. Among young women, the number is a remarkable 79 percent.
Additionally, 47 percent of young women report “definite” interest in seeing it and 16 percent say it’s their first choice.
Still, CBS expects a huge drop on Super Bowl Sunday.
The movie debuts at 2,885 locations.
Finally, there’s Universal’s “Big Miracle,” a PG-rated family film that looks like “Dolphin Tales” with whales instead of dolphins.
It’s the only family film of the weekend – “Woman In Black” looks a little scary for the 13-and-under set and “Chronicle” is a touch dark and has high school kids being high school kids.
If parents want to push the kids out of the house for a few hours while they prepare for the Super Bowl, they could well push them to “Big Miracle.”
Universal spent about $40 million to make the film, about a small town in Alaska that saves a family of gray whales from encroaching ice in the Arctic Circle -- quite a departure from last week's "The Grey," about a group of oil drillers in Alaska who try to escape a pack of grey wolves.
Also read: 'Big Miracle': Feel-Good Whale Tale's Appeal Is No Fluke
Universal targeted mothers and girls, and notes that the movie’s tracking is similar to the films “Ramona and Beezus,” which opened to $7.8 million and to “Soul Surfer,” which opened to $11 million.
NRG’s tracking shows the movie lagging behind both “Chronicle” and “The Woman in Black,” and outside box-office watchers expect the movie to stay in the single-digits.
Its strongest demographic is women, and 60 percent of young women and 64 percent of those older than 25 report awareness of the movie.
Metacritic gives “Big Miracle” a 60 percent rating. Rotten Tomatoes gives it a 68 and Movie Review Intelligence gives it a 65.1.
“Big Miracle,” which Ken Kwapis directed, stars John Krasinski. It opens at 2,128 locations.
While this weekend will be extra-slow at the box office, next weekend will be anything but slow.
“Journey 2: The Mysterious Island,” “Safe House,” “Star Wars: Episode 1 – The Phantom Menace” and “The Vow” all open. And they’ll all open big.Related Articles: Exciting 'Chronicle' Could Have Skipped the Gimmicks 'Big Miracle': Feel-Good Whale Tale's Appeal Is No Fluke Daniel Radcliffe Will Be Haunted by 'The Woman in Black'