Weekend Report: 'Identity Thief' Cashes Big Check
In spite of the inclement weather in much of the Northeast, Identity Thief got off to a fantastic start this weekend and is well-positioned to be the first major hit of 2013. Side Effects, on the other hand, was a bit underwhelming in its debut, and will be one of director Steven Soderbergh's more disappointing commercial outings.

The Top 12 wound up earning $86.2 million this weekend, which is off a whopping 50 percent from last year when The Vow and Safe House both opened to over $40 million.

At 3,141 locations, Identity Thief earned $34.6 million this weekend. That's one of the best openings ever for an original R-rated comedy, and it's director Seth Gordon's top start ahead of Four Christmases ($31.1 million) and Horrible Bosses ($28.3 million). It's also way up from Melissa McCarthy's Bridesmaids ($26.2 million); all three of the aforementioned titles wound up closing with at least $117 million, which suggests a $100 million finish is within reach for Identity Thief.

Universal is projecting that Winter Storm Nemo knocked around 10 percent off the weekend, which lines up with what competitive studios are estimating as well. This suggests that, without the storm, Identity Thief could have debuted to around $38 million.

Identity Thief had many factors working in its favor, including a dearth of competition: the last R-rated comedy that opened over $20 million was Ted over seven months ago. More importantly, though, credit belongs to Universal's marketing team for delivering a fantastic campaign that established the movie's unique premise while highlighting some broadly-appealing gags as well. That campaign also emphasized that likeable leads Jason Bateman and Melissa McCarthy (in her first lead role) would go head-to-head, and that interesting match-up surely drove a lot of traffic as well.

Universal is reporting that the audience was 58 percent female (meaning McCarthy's fans showed up alongside date-night audiences) and 57 percent were 30 years of age or older. The movie received a middling "B" CinemaScore, which isn't surprising given the movie's atrocious 24 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

In second place, Warm Bodies dipped 44 percent to $11.4 million. That drop is about on par with last year's Super Bowl weekend winner Chronicle, which fell 45 percent in its second outing. Through 10 days, Summit Entertainment's zombie romance has grossed $36.5 million.

Side Effects opened in third place with $9.3 million from 2,605 locations. Among comparable titles from director Steven Soderbergh, that's less than half of Contagion's $22.4 million, and is also off a fraction from The Informant!'s $10.5 million. It was at least better than Haywire's $8.4 million, though that's not saying much. The audience skewed female (63 percent) and 85 percent were 25 years of age or older. They awarded the movie a "B" CinemaScore, which is significantly better than Haywire's "D+" last year.

Side Effects is a psychological thriller full of twists, and distributor Open Road Films opted to conceal those twists in the marketing campaign. While that surely delighted the cinephile population (personally I loved having no idea what was coming), it made the movie seem vague and inaccessible to the general movie-going public. For better or worse, audiences tend to respond more favorably when the movie's story is clearly laid out, and as a result Side Effects failed to break out.

It's worth noting that this low opening is not in any way a referendum on Channing Tatum's bankability. Unlike his three $100 million movies last year—where he was front-and-center in the campaign—Tatum was relegated to the background in the Side Effects marketing. The same goes for G.I. Joe: Retaliation next month; the first Channing Tatum vehicle of 2013 is White House Down in June, which will be the next actual test of his star power.

In fourth place, Silver Linings Playbook continued its winning streak by easing just 17 percent to $6.4 million. The movie should pass $90 million on Monday, and will definitely be over $100 million before the Oscar ceremony on Feb. 24.

Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters rounded out the Top Five with $5.75 million (off a light 39 percent from last weekend). To date, the movie has earned $43.8 million, and will ultimately close with well over $50 million.

In its 18th weekend in theaters, Best Picture front-runner Argo expanded to 1,405 locations and grossed $2.4 million, which was good for eighth place. To date, the movie has earned an excellent $123.6 million; this surge will likely be short-lived, though, considering the movie hits DVD and Blu-ray next Tuesday.

Top Gun 3D scored $1.97 million from 300 locations this weekend, which translates to a per-theater average of $6,552. In comparison, last September's Raiders of the Lost Ark's IMAX re-release earned $1.67 million at 267 locations for an average of $6,269.

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This Weekend's Forecast:

Forecast: 'Identity Thief' Set to Scam Audiences This Weekend

This Weekend in Past Years:

• 2012 - Moviegoers Say "I Do" to 'The Vow,' Check In to 'Safe House'

• 2011 - 'Just,' 'Justin,' 'Juliet' Jumpin'

• 2010 - 'Valentine's Day' Massacres Presidents' Day Record

• 2009 - 'He's Just' a Hit Over Busy Weekend

• 2007 - 'Norbit' Out-Grosses 'Hannibal'

• 2006 - 'Pink Panther' Slinks Past 'Destination'

• 2005 - 'Hitch' Scores Romantic Comedy Record

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