Never underestimate the power of a teen idol. Pre-release polling had led many in Hollywood to believe that Adam Sandler's new comedy, "Just Go With It," would easily beat out "Never Say Never," a 3-D Justin Bieber documentary, but the box-office results are a virtual tie.
"Never Say Never" took in $30.3 million at the box office, according to an estimate from distributor Paramount Pictures, while "Just Go With It" distributor Sony estimated its movie would end up with $31 million. The two popular films could easily trade places when final ticket sales for Sunday are tabulated Monday morning.
Channing Tatum historical action film "The Eagle" came in far behind the other new movies with $8.6 million.
Going into the weekend, it was unclear how well the Bieber film would perform; it's difficult to measure the interest of his young but devoted fan base. But "Never Say Never" came in at the high end of Hollywood's estimates, boosted by surcharges for 3-D tickets, which represented 84% of its receipts. Still, it didn't quite surpass a similar hit, 2008's "Hannah Montana/Miley Cyrus: Best of Both Worlds," which opened to $31.1 million.
"Never Say Never" is the first release from Paramount Insurge. The studio's label, devoted to making quick, inexpensive movies, was created in the wake of "Paranormal Activity." It cost only $13 million to produce, making it an immediate hit for the fledgling division.
The audience was mostly female, as expected, and they loved the movie, giving it an average grade of A, according to market-research firm CinemaScore.
But there may not be many Beliebers left after the weekend. Concert films tend to fade quickly from the box office after fans pack theaters on opening weekend. There are already signs that "Never Say Never" is losing some momentum: Its ticket sales fell 13% on Saturday, after fans with Bieber fever rushed to theaters Friday.
Sandler's romantic comedy "Just Go With It" is almost certain to end up with a higher box-office number when all is said and done. The movie jumped 41% from Friday to Saturday and earned a CinemaScore of A-. Sandler's last film, "Grown Ups," ultimately took in four times its opening-weekend gross.
Sony spent $80 million to produce "Just Go With It," which means the movie will need to perform well in the weeks ahead and overseas to be profitable for the studio. "Just Go With It" also opened in 16 foreign markets, where it grossed $5.1 million.
The audience was 58% female, signaling how Sander has transitioned from a male-skewing gross-out comedian to more of a romantic-comedy star with broader appeal. It's also a solid performance for Jennifer Aniston, who has had several recent box-office flops, such as "The Switch" and "Love Happens."
"Gnomeo & Juliet" has been in the works for more than 10 years at Walt Disney Studios and was set to be released by its Miramax label before the unit was sold last year. After all the backstage turbulence, it ended up with the highest-ever opening for an animated film in February, not accounting for ticket-price inflation. The majority of the audience was made up of families with children younger than 12, and with no other kids' films being released until "Rango" on March 4, it should rack up a strong box-office total.
Despite the relatively soft debut for "The Eagle," distributor Focus Features said it was pleased with the start for the $23-million production. But word-of-mouth may be poor, as the audience, mostly male, gave the film a soft CinemaScore of C+.
In limited release, the Ed Helms comedy "Cedar Rapids" performed well, taking in $310,789 at 15 theaters.
[Updated at 10:46 a.m.: Overseas this weekend, "The Green Hornet" had the widest opening ever for a film in China and saw good results, grossing $11.5 million. That's more money than the Sony film has collected in any other international territory to date, including Great Britain, where it opened five weeks ago. The strong debut in China was undoubtedly due in large part to co-star Jay Chou, a native of Taiwan popular in the region.
In total, "The Green Hornet" has grossed $107.2 million overseas so far, slightly more than its domestic total of $92.3 million. It is now approaching $200 million worldwide, a decent number for a big budget 3-D event film.
"True Grit" opened in 13 international territories this weekend and collected $8.3 million. It performed best in Britain, where the Coen brothers-directed western grossed $2.7 million. "No Strings Attached," an Ashton Kutcher-Natalie Portman romantic comedy, opened in 22 foreign markets and had $5.9 million in ticket sales.
Here are the top 10 movies at the domestic box office, with foreign grosses when available, according to studio estimates and Hollywood.com:
1. "Just Go With It" (Sony): Opened to $31 million. $5.1 million overseas in 16 foreign markets.
2. "Never Say Never" (Paramount Insurge): Opened to $30.3 million on its first weekend; $31 million including Wednesday previews.
3. "Gnomeo & Juliet" (Disney): Opened to $25.5 million. $250,000 overseas in two foreign markets.
4. "The Eagle" (Focus Features): Opened to $8.6 million.
5. "The Roommate" (Sony Screen Gems): $8.4 million on its second weekend, down 44%. Domestic total: $26 million.
6. "The King's Speech" (Weinstein Co.): $7.4 million on its 12th weekend, down 4%. Domestic total: $93.9 million.
7. "No Strings Attached" (Paramount/Spyglass/Cold Spring): $5.6 million on its fourth weekend, down 29%. Domestic total: $59.9 million. $5.9 million overseas in 22 foreign markets. International total: $6 million.
8. "Sanctum" (Universal/Relativity): $5.1 million on its second weekend, down 46%. Domestic total: $17.5 million. $1.5 million overseas in two foreign markets. International total: $5.6 million.
9. "True Grit" (Paramount/Skydance): $3.8 million on its eighth weekend, down 19%. Domestic total: $160.3 million. $8.3 million overseas in 16 foreign markets. International total: $14.5 million.
10. "The Green Hornet" (Sony): $3.6 million on its fifth weekend, down 40%. Domestic total: $92.3 million. $18.3 million overseas in 78 foreign markets. International total: $107.2 million.]
-- Amy Kaufman and Ben Fritz
Photos, from top: Justin Bieber in "Never Say Never." Credit: Paramount Pictures. Brooklyn Decker and Adam Sandler in "Just Go With It." Credit: Tracy Bennett / Sony