By Grady Smith
Updated January 21, 2012 at 05:36 PM EST
Joe Lederer

Thanks to a surge of new releases, a wide expansion, and strong hold from Contraband, the January box office is exhibiting quite a bit of depth. While there won’t be any astronomical grosses this weekend, a number of films are churning out mid-level numbers in the $10 million range, which should lift the cumulative box office to a reasonably healthy level.

On top of the pack on Friday was Underworld Awakening, a 3D fourth installment of the Underworld franchise, which scared up $9.4 million in its first 24 hours. Due to fanboy frontloadedness, the Kate Beckinsale picture may finish the weekend with about $24 million, which would be the second-best debut in the franchise’s history (Underworld: Evolution started with $26.9 million in 2006), although that number seems much less healthy when you factor in Awakening‘s $70 million budget.

In second place, Red Tails successfully got off the ground with $6 million on Friday. The George Lucas-produced WWII picture may pull off a $17 million debut, which would have seemed impossible a few short weeks ago. Fox should send Tyler Perry a fruit basket!

Last week’s victor, Contraband, which also stars Kate Beckinsale (who is having a very good January!), stuck around in third place with $3.7 million. The Mark Wahlberg action title may shoot up another $12.5 million over the Friday-to-Sunday period.

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close expanded into 2,630 locations yesterday, but the 9/11 drama is being met with weaker-than-expected results. On Friday, it pulled in $3.2 million, and it may finish the weekend with $9.5 million.

Steven Soderbergh’s Haywire brought in a tepid $2.9 million, good enough for fifth place. The action-fest, which stars former MMA fighter Gina Carano, will have to settle for about $8 million in its debut frame. (Its “D+” CinemaScore grade won’t help matters…)

In sixth place, Beauty and the Beast dropped 63 percent from its opening day last week down to $2.1 million. Belle should finish the weekend right in the same range as Haywire, but I’m still confused by the drop. Are Disney princesses the new Fanboy favorites?

Check back tomorrow for the full box office report!

1. Underworld Awakening – $9.4 million

2. Red Tails – $6.0 million

3. Contraband – $3.7 million

4. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close – $3.2 million

5. Haywire – $2.9 million

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