The message couldn't have been any clearer this February—if the movies seem worthwhile, audiences will still turn away from their TVs and computers and head to their local movie theater.
Overall box office for the month came in at over $816 million, which is up 24 percent from the same period last year. More importantly, it topped March 2009 ($769.3 million) to set a new record for the month of February. Even when adjusting for ticket price inflation, February 2012 saw the highest attendance since February 2004.
Remarkably, the top three movies in February were all released on the same day. The Vow took first place for the month with just under $105 million; the Channing Tatum-Rachel McAdams drama is such a runaway success that after just 10 days in theaters it passed Dear John to become Sony/Screen Gems highest-grossing movie ever.
Safe House wasn't far behind at $100.2 million. It's Denzel Washington's fourth movie ever to reach the $100 million mark, and it could ultimately become his second highest-grossing movie ever ahead of Remember the Titans ($115.7 million).
Found footage movie Chronicle kicked off the month with a $22 million first place debut, and has so far earned a very solid $58.7 million. The Woman in Black rounded out the Top Five with $50.9 million, demonstrating that Daniel Radcliffe may have some post-Potter box office potential. The final clear success in February is Act of Valor, which managed to earn just under $30 million through its first six days in theaters.
As always, there were plenty of underperformers as well. Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace's 3D re-release earned $40.9 million, or just 9.5 percent of its original theatrical run. That doesn't compare favorably to The Lion King (25.9 percent) and Beauty and the Beast (28.8 percent) through the same point, and Phantom Menace was more heavily promoted than either of those releases.
Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance was a more obvious flop with just $39.7 million through its first 13 days. That's a meager 48 percent of the first Ghost Rider's $83.3 million tally at the same time. It was also only a few million dollars ahead of This Means War ($35.3 million), which wasn't exactly a hit either. Another somewhat disappointing performance came from Tyler Perry's Good Deeds—it only played for the last six days of the month, but its $18.1 million was on the very low end for Perry flicks.
There were also a set of complete non-starters that began with Big Miracle ($19 million), and continued through Wanderlust ($8.2 million through six days) and Gone ($5.7 million through six days).
A rough estimate has 3D showings accounting for around $140 million this month, or roughly 17 percent of overall ticket sales. Journey 2 was likely the biggest contributor, though nearly all of The Phantom Menace's $40.9 million was from 3D presentations.
Through the first two months of the year, overall box office is at $1.65 billion. That marks a 16 percent improvement from 2011, but a 9 percent decline from 2010 and an 8 percent drop from 2009.
Perhaps the most noteworthy occurrence so far this year has been the overwhelming success of lower-budget movies. Out of the eight movies that have claimed first place for a weekend, six of them cost $30 million or less. Those six movies had a combined budget of around $105 million, but managed to open to a combined $165 million. This is not to say that studios should be slashing budgets across the board, but it does reinforce the idea that cost-conscious genre fare can be very profitable early in the year.
After finishing in last place among the Big Six studios last year, 20th Century Fox is currently leading the way in 2012 with $268 million. Sony isn't far behind with $263 million, and the studio chart will likely see significant changes by the end of what's shaping up to be a wild March at the box office.