* ‘Safe House’ takes $28.4 mln over holiday weekend
* Fourth place finish for Cage’s new ‘Ghost Rider’
* Weekend up 10.5 pct vs. last year
By Lisa Richwine
LOS ANGELES, Feb 20 (Reuters) - The weekend box office title landed securely in Denzel Washington’s hands as his thriller, “Safe House,” beat love story “The Vow” over a long U.S. holiday weekend.
“Safe House” took in $28.4 million at U.S. and Canadian theaters from Friday through Monday, according to studio estimates compiled by Reuters. That lifted the movie to No. 1 from its second-place finish when it opened a week earlier.
“The Vow,” last weekend’s winner, slipped to second place with $26.6 million over the four days.
The strong performances helped bring Hollywood another winning weekend as 2012 has bolted to a fast start following a 3.4 percent slump in domestic box office receipts last year.
North American (U.S. and Canadian) ticket sales for all of movies rose 10.5 percent from the same weekend a year ago to $192 million, according to the box office division of Hollywood.com. For all of 2012 so far, revenue was running 17.9 percent ahead of 2011. Attendance was up 20.6 percent.
Industry executives said a broad mix of movies was drawing people to theaters. Plus, the films now showing have drawn high marks in exit-polling of audiences. “You’re seeing a lot of movies that are very satisfying. You’ve got something for everybody,” said Chris Aronson, senior vice president for domestic distribution at 20th Century Fox.
Filmgoers had a variety of choices this weekend.
Action movie “Safe House” stars Washington as a fugitive on the run with a rookie CIA operative played by Ryan Reynolds. Polling showed the audience during the movie’s first weekend was mostly older than 30.
The strong second-weekend showing suggests “the audience is expanding” to younger filmgoers through “good word of mouth,” said Nikki Rocco, president of distribution for Universal Pictures, the Comcast Corp unit that released it.
“The Vow,” a romantic drama starring Rachel McAdams and Channing Tatum, offered an alternative for females and couples. The movie tells the story of a man who must win back his wife’s heart after she loses her memory in a car crash.
In third place, family film “Journey 2: The Mysterious Island” starring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson pulled in $26.4 million through Monday during its second weekend in domestic theaters.
New 3D action movie “Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance” rung up $25.7 million domestically, finishing in fourth place and short of some industry forecasts that had the movie reaching $30 million and winning the weekend.
The movie stars Nicolas Cage as Johnny Blaze, a motorcyle-riding superhero living out a curse as the devil’s bounty hunter. It follows the original “Ghost Rider,” which opened over Presidents Day weekend in 2007 with $52.0 million domestically.
Rory Bruer, president of worldwide distribution for Sony Pictures, said the movie “performed within our expectations” and noted its budget was less than $60 million. Sony and Hyde Park Entertainment split the production cost.
“It’s within our realm of success,” Bruer said.
New romantic comedy “This Means War,” about two CIA agents who fight for the same woman, earned fifth place with a better-than-expected $20.4 million domestically plus $11.0 million from international markets. The movie stars Reese Witherspoon, Tom Hardy and Chris Pine and cost about $65 million to produce.
The weekend’s other new release, Disney animated film “The Secret World of Arrietty,” brought in $8.1 million to meet industry forecasts and land in eighth place. “Arrietty” played in about 1,500 theaters, compared with about 3,000 for the top five films.
The movie tells the story of a family of tiny people who live under the floorboards of a country home. It was released as a Japanese film by Studio Ghibli in 2010 and re-recorded in English.
The movie studio of Sony Corp released “Ghost Rider” and “The Vow.” Time Warner Inc unit Warner Bros. distributed “Journey 2.” News Corp’s 20th Century Fox released “This Means War.” Walt Disney Co distributed “The Secret World of Arrietty.”