By Grady Smith
Updated February 19, 2012 at 06:31 PM EST
Credit: Disney

Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance

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President’s Day weekend proved to be another strong one at the box office. In its second weekend in theaters, Safe House, an action thriller starring Denzel Washington and Ryan Reynolds, climbed past last weekend’s victor The Vow and topped the box office chart. Meanwhile, newcomers Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance, This Means War, and The Secret World of Arrietty didn’t make a big dent on the chart, but they still contributed to a very sold frame overall. Here’s how the weekend played out:

Safe House took in an estimated $24 million over the three-day weekend (a drop of 40 percent), bringing its 10-day total to $78.3 million. The $85 million action film weathered the arrival of both Ghost Rider and This Means War, two films heavy on action, and it is now poised to pass the $100 million mark next weekend. Safe House will become Denzel Washington’s biggest hit since 2007’s American Gangster, which grossed $130.2 million, and if it can maintain slim declines, it could become his highest-grossing hit ever. The film is doing good things for Ryan Reynolds as well. After a tough 2011, which saw disappointing returns for both Green Lantern ($116.6 million), and The Change-Up ($37.1 million), Reynolds badly needed a hit, and he certainly got one with Safe House. Universal is betting on a $28.5 million gross over four days.

Close behind in second place, The Vow turned in another swoon-worthy weekend. The $30 million romantic drama found $23.6 million over three days, bringing its total to $85.5 million after ten — a new high for distributor Screen Gems (Spyglass Entertainment is also distributing). The Vow‘s total represents a new high-point for romances starring Rachel McAdams and Channing Tatum — two stars wisely cast for their genre appeal. McAdams’ most successful romantic entry, The Notebook, grossed $81.0 million in 2004, while Tatum’s turn in Dear John helped the film all the way to $80.0 million. The Vow, which Sony estimates will earn $25.5 million over the four-day weekend, will fare even better — it’s headed for a final total in the $120 million-range.

Credit: Lewis Jacobs/NBC

In less impressive news, Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance started its run in third place with only $22 million, an opening 52 percent lower than the original Ghost Rider‘s $45.4 million three-day debut — despite the added presence of higher 3-D ticket prices. Sony’s $70 million comic book sequel, which once again starred Nicolas Cage, couldn’t attract many moviegoers who were turned off by the poorly received original. Those who did show up for Spirit of Vengeance — 61 percent were male and 48 percent were under 25 — didn’t like what they saw. The film earned an awful “C+” CinemaScore grade, which will undoubtedly hurt the film’s endurance moving forward. Preliminary estimates give Ghost Rider $25.5 million over four days.

Journey 2: The Mysterious Island dipped just 27 percent in its second weekend to $20.1 million, enough for a fourth place ranking. With a $53.2 million running total, Warner Brothers’ $79 million 3-D family film is performing better than its predecessor, 2008’s Journey to the Center of the Earth, which had earned $43.5 million at the same point in its run. Only time will tell if Journey 2 can match the original’s $101.7 million total (that film played in the summer, and with kids out of school, week days proved much more lucrative), but it seems like a likely finishing point. The harmlessly entertaining flick will serve as a solid entry on the resumés of stars Josh Hutcherson and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, but especially Vanessa Hudgens, who hasn’t had a real hit since 2008’s High School Musical 3: Senior Year, which earned $90.6 million.

Credit: Lewis Jacobs/NBC

In fifth place, This Means War failed to capture the same size audience that The Vow managed in its debut (and sophomore) weekend. Fox’s $65 million romantic comedy/action hybrid, which stars Reese Witherspoon, Chris Pine, and Tom Hardy, earned $17.6 million in its first three days ($19.1 million total when Valentine’s Day sneaks are included), a rather underwhelming result. The film may have suffered because prospective audiences weren’t sure what it was actually about. Trailers featured two male leads and tons of action, which made the tone of the film somewhat unclear. Was this a romance? Or a thriller?

Indeed, War was certainly more difficult to advertise than a typical romantic comedy, like 2002’s Sweet Home Alabama which earned $127.2 million and put Witherspoon on the map as a go-to rom-com star. Unfortunately, the Oscar-winning actress hasn’t proved herself to be totally consistent as a box office draw. In 2008, her comedy Four Christmases, which also starred Vince Vaughn, earned a strong $120.1 million, but her most recent entries, How Do You Know ($30.2 million) and Water for Elephants ($58.7 million) haven’t exactly broken out. Hardy and Pine, meanwhile, are lucky to have major franchises (Batman and Star Trek, respectively) ready to give them box office boosts in the future. When all is said and done, This Means War, which earned an encouraging “A-” CinemaScore grade, won’t go down in the books as an outright bomb, but it may struggle to recoup its production budget.

SMALL WONDER Bridgit Mender voices the title character in The Secret World of Arrietty
| Credit: Disney

Back in ninth place, The Secret World of Arrietty, found $6.4 million over its debut frame — but don’t call it a flop just yet. The Japanese animated film, written by beloved filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki and based on famous novel The Borrowers, was the biggest hit in its homeland in 2010, grossing over $110 million in Japan alone. Thus, profits from the U.S. release (being handled by Disney) are all gravy. Disney has been distributing Miyazaki’s films for a full decade now, and encouragingly, Arrietty opened much better than any of Disney’s other anime efforts. In fact, the film scored the fifth-best anime opening ever in the U.S., behind three Pokémon movies and a Yu-Gi-Oh! film. Disney’s last wide-release anime entry, Ponyo, started with $3.6 million and earned $15.1 million overall in 2009, so Arrietty, with an estimated $8 million over its first four days and an “A-” CinemaScore grade, seems likely to climb into the $20 million range. Obviously, not blockbuster numbers, but a respectable figure for a dubbed foreign film in a style many Americans aren’t accustomed to.

In milestone news, thanks to a $7.9 million weekend (which resulted from a HUGE 65 percent drop), the re-released Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace has now earned $464.8 million in its lifetime, allowing it to climb from fifth to fourth place on the all-time highest grossing movies list. It bumped the original Star Wars, which has a lifetime gross of $461 million, down into fifth. Smaller milestones acheived: Chronicle passed $50 million, while The Descendants passed $75 million.

Check back tomorrow for a four-day box office update.

Three-day estimates:

1. Safe House – $24.0 million

2. The Vow – $23.6 million

3. Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance – $22.0 million

4. Journey 2: The Mysterious Island – $20.1 million

5. This Means War – $17.6 million

6. Star Wars: Episode I: The Phantom Menace – $7.9 million

7. Chronicle – $7.5 million

8. The Woman in Black – $6.6 million

9. The Secret World of Arrietty – $6.4 million

10. The Grey – $3.0 million

For more box office coverage, follow me on Twitter: Follow @EWGradySmith

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Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance

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