‘Warm Bodies’ is box-office victor on Super Bowl weekend

LOS ANGELES — While many Americans camped out in front of their televisions with seven-layer dip watching the Super Bowl, a handful of teen girls headed to the multiplex instead.

Young female moviegoers pushed “Warm Bodies” into the end zone at the box office on a weekend when ticket sales are traditionally sluggish because of the massively popular Sunday football event. The romantic comedy, about a girl who falls in love with a zombie, debuted with a healthy $20 million, according to an estimate by the distributor, Summit Entertainment.

The only other film that landed in theaters nationwide this past weekend, “Bullet to the Head,” took a hit. The action movie starring Sylvester Stallone was aimed at older men, but they didn’t show up in big numbers: The picture started with a dismal $4.5 million.

In past years, the most successful films on Super Bowl weekend often have been the ones that appealed to teen girls. The movie that grossed the most on pro football’s championship weekend was Miley Cyrus’ “Hannah Montana” 3-D concert flick, which took in $31.1 million in 2008.

“Warm Bodies” collected the seventh-highest gross for a Super Bowl weekend, not adjusting for inflation; ticket sales for the weekend overall were down 24 percent from last year.

Lionsgate’s Summit Entertainment label has a winner in the well-reviewed zombie flick, which stars new young Hollywood faces Nicholas Hoult and Teresa Palmer. The studio spent a modest $30 million to produce the movie, and it could benefit from good word of mouth in the coming weeks.

Those who saw it this weekend — 65 percent of whom were younger than 25, and 60 percent of whom were female — assigned the picture an average grade of B-plus, according to market research firm CinemaScore.

The movie’s opening could also be good news for 23-year-old Hoult, who is headlining Warner Bros.’ $150-million-plus “Jack the Giant Slayer” next month. Although the actor found success as a child star in 2002’s “About a Boy,” this is his first big-screen leading role since then.

“Bullet to the Head” is a disappointment for Stallone, who had staged something of a comeback with the success of his “The Expendables” franchise. “Bullet,” in which the 66-year-old actor plays a hit man seeking revenge on a murderer, drew an audience that was 60 percent male and 81 percent older than 25. But viewers didn’t seem to love it, giving it an average grade of B-minus.

Dan Fellman, Warner Bros.’ president of domestic distribution, said the studio opted to release the film this past weekend in the hope that it might replicate the success of a movie like “Taken,” another picture aimed at older men that launched with a surprisingly robust $24.7 million on Super Bowl weekend in 2009.

“It didn’t work,” Fellman acknowledged. “I think the movie is a better movie than the result. I feel badly for the filmmakers.”

The good news for Warner Bros. is that the studio is only releasing the film, financed by India’s Reliance Entertainment. However, the poor box office marks a lackluster end to a 25-year-long partnership between Warner Bros. and Joel Silver’s Dark Castle Entertainment, which produced the film. The studio terminated its relationship with Silver at the end of 2012, though it has yet to release one Dark Castle film, Ethan Hawke’s “Getaway.”

Lionsgate opted for a limited release of another film for adult males this past weekend, “Stand Up Guys,” which opened in 659 theaters. The movie, starring Al Pacino, Christopher Walken and Alan Arkin as con men, has not received good reviews and did not open well. Playing in the country’s top 75 markets, it grossed $1.5 million for a weak per-theater average of $2,276.