RIGHT-HAND MAN Mark Wahlberg and Ben Foster in Contraband

2012 is doing just fine, thank you very much. While last year saw moviegoing attendance drop to its lowest level in 16 years, this young year has so far been a pleasant surprise for Hollywood. That was the case on Friday, as both Contraband and Beauty and the Beast 3D exceeded industry expectations.

Contraband, the R-rated Mark Wahlberg smuggling thriller, led the box office with an estimated $8.7 million on Friday. That puts it on pace for a four-day holiday weekend take of about $28 million, which is solid business for a film that cost just $25 million to produce. Despite mediocre reviews, audiences enjoyed watching Marky Mark in tough-guy action mode, with CinemaScore participants handing the movie an “A-” grade. Of particular note is that 69 percent of CinemaScore’s moviegoers listed Wahlberg as their reason for buying a ticket. So if anyone was still questioning whether Wahlberg could carry a film, those doubts have been erased.

In second was Disney’s 3-D re-release of the 1991 animated classic Beauty and the Beast, which took in $5.6 million on Friday. By comparison, last September’s The Lion King 3D roared to $8.9 million its first day. But no one realistically thought Beast was going to match the 3-D performance of King, and considering that Disney spent less than $10 million converting Beast to the third dimension, the studio has to be pleased with this result.

Furthermore, Beast could potentially overtake Contraband by the end of the holiday weekend, thanks to a likely strong turnout of family audiences on Saturday and Sunday, and the fact that most schools have Monday off. But I’m thinking it’ll finish the four-day frame just behind Contraband with around $27 million.

Joyful Noise and Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol essentially tied for third place with $3.3 million, though Warner Bros.’ estimates have the former film finishing slightly ahead of Ethan Hunt. Noise, which stars Queen Latifah and Dolly Parton as the leaders of a Georgia church choir, is on track for $14 million over the extended weekend — a decent start considering its $25 million budget. The PG-13 film received an “A-” from CinemaScore audiences, 73 percent of which was female.

Ghost Protocol should surpass the original Mission: Impossible‘s $181 gross sometime today to become the action series’ second-highest grossing film. Tom Cruise and company will then set their sights on climbing past Mission: Impossible II‘s $215.4 million tally.

In fifth, The Devil Inside dropped 84 percent for $2.7 million on Friday — a particularly steep decline even for a horror film. The $1 million movie is already a success story, opening to a dumbfounding $33.7 million last weekend. But after earning a rare “F” grade from CinemaScore audiences, it’s not a surprise to see The Devil Inside plummeting at such an accelerated rate.

The Iron Lady, starring the sure-to-be-Oscar-nominated Meryl Streep as former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, expanded from five to 802 theaters and earned a respectable $1.6 million on Friday. Check back here on Sunday for the complete box-office report.

1. Contraband — $8.7 mil

2. Beauty and the Beast 3D — $5.6 mil

3. Joyful Noise — $3.32 mil

4. Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol — $3.28 mil

5. The Devil Inside — $2.7 mil