‘Identity Thief’ steals the top spot at box office

LOS ANGELES — Melissa McCarthy stole the show at the box office this weekend, proving she has the star power to attract moviegoers to theaters even during a blizzard.

“Identity Thief,” her comedy co-starring Jason Bateman, easily ran away with the weekend’s No. 1 spot as it debuted with a robust $36.6 million, according to an estimate from distributor Universal Pictures.

That was far more than the weekend’s only other nationwide opener, “Side Effects,” started off with. The Steven Soderbergh-directed thriller — which the filmmaker has said is his last movie to hit the big screen — took in an underwhelming $10 million on its first weekend in theaters.

Despite industry concerns that a huge winter storm would keep East Coasters away from the box office, “Identity Thief” took in about $10 million more on its opening weekend than pre-release audience polling had suggested. That’s the biggest opening of the year thus far, beating Universal’s “Mama,” the horror film that debuted with $28.4 million in January.

Overall, however, ticket sales declined a major 45 percent compared with the same three-day period last year, when Valentine’s Day-related movies opened over the weekend.

In “Identity Thief,” McCarthy stars as a gregarious criminal who steals the credit card information of a man played by Bateman. Though critics loathed the picture — the New York Observer’s Rex Reed even snarked about McCarthy’s weight in his review — moviegoers didn’t share that opinion. The weekend crowd — 57 percent of whom were over 30 — assigned it an average grade of B, according to market research firm CinemaScore.

“Side Effects,” meanwhile, also received a B CinemaScore from moviegoers, even though critics were enamored with the picture. The movie centers on a psychologist (Jude Law) who struggles to find the right medication to treat a depressed patient (Rooney Mara). It attracted a heavily older crowd, as 85 percent of those who saw it over the weekend were over the age of 25.

In limited release, Paramount Pictures offered a 3-D version of its 1986 Tom Cruise flick “Top Gun” to help promote the film’s Blu-Ray opening this month. It collected $1.9 million from 300 screens for a so-so per-theater average of $6,700.

Another film playing in only a handful of theaters, “Lost in Thailand,” also failed to debut with a splash. AMC released the Chinese-language film — which grossed $201 million in China last year, more than any other movie in the country — in 29 theaters. “The Hangover”-esque film collected only $29,143.