Vow Channing McAdams
Credit: Kerry Hayes

Whatever pill this year’s box office is taking, I want it. Exceeding the most optimistic projections, this weekend is on the way to having four movies open to more than $20 million each, and it should become the biggest non-holiday February weekend ever.

Leading the charge was The Vow, which took in $15.4 million on Friday. That puts the $30 million movie on track for a $41 million weekend — the best opening ever for the Sony-owned production company Screen Gems (beating Dear John‘s $30.5 million debut).

The Vow, which stars Rachel McAdams as a car-accident victim who forgets that Channing Tatum is her husband (impossible!), drew a crowd that was 74 percent female, and CinemaScore audiences handed it an overall “B” rating. The PG-13 film could be slightly front-loaded, though, as this is the first major romantic drama to hit theaters since The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn — Part 1.

That would be good news for the Denzel Washington thriller Safe House, which finished slightly behind The Vow with $13.8 million. The R-rated movie is on pace for a $39 million weekend, which would represent Washington’s second-best opening ever (after American Gangster‘s $43.6 million). Make no mistake about it — Washington was the big draw here. According to CinemaScore, 72 percent of moviegoers said the actor was their reason for buying a ticket. Washington hasn’t been in a film for more than a year, and audiences were clearly itching to see him back on the big screen and playing a baddie once again.

Surprisingly, Safe House had no trouble at all attracting women — 48 percent of the audience was female. And ticket buyers liked what they saw, with CinemaScore participants giving the $85 million movie a solid “A-” grade.

Third and fourth place went to two 3-D family films. The three-dimensional re-release of the two-dimensional Star Wars: Episode I — The Phantom Menace collected $8.7 million on Friday, and should finish the weekend with around $25 million. Journey 2: The Mysterious Island performed better than expected, grossing $6.6 million on Friday. That puts the $79 million sequel on track for a $22 million opening, which would be slightly better than Journey to the Center of the Earth‘s $21 million debut. CinemaScore audiences gave Journey 2 a strong “A-” rating.

In fifth place, last week’s winner, Chronicle, dropped 59 percent for $3.5 million. Yes, that’s a large decline, but it actually compares favorably to other recent “found-footage” movies: The Devil Inside plummeted 84 percent its second Friday, while Paranormal Activity 3 fell 76 percent. Chronicle should finish the weekend with $11 million, pushing its cumulative tally to about $39 million — or more than three times its $12 million budget.

Check back here on Sunday for the complete box office report.

1. The Vow — $15.4 mil

2. Safe House — $13.8 mil

3. Star Wars: Episode I — The Phantom Menace 3D — $8.7 mil

4. Journey 2: The Mysterious Island — $6.6 mil

5. Chronicle — $3.5 mil