Fourth "Underworld" film leads domestic box office

Sun Jan 22, 2012 5:32pm EST
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By Lisa Richwine

(Reuters) - Vampires and werewolves lured moviegoers to theaters this weekend as the fourth "Underworld" film topped domestic box office charts and brought in an estimated $38.8 million around the world.

"Underworld: Awakening" stars Kate Beckinsale as a vampire leading the charge in a battle against humans trying to drive her species and the werewolves to extinction.

The fourth movie opened stronger than two of the three earlier films in the franchise, which opened in 2003. "Awakening" pulled in $25.4 million at North American (U.S. and Canadian) theaters from Friday through Sunday, plus $13.4 million from 36 international markets, distributor Sony said on Sunday.

Playing in 3,078 domestic locations, the film's weekend sales finished "at the high end of where we hoped," said Rory Bruer, president of worldwide distribution for Sony Pictures. Audiences were eager to see Beckinsale return to the lead role, he said. She had starred in the first two films but skipped the third.

"Awakening" is the first "Underworld" movie in 3D and cost about $70 million to produce. The movie fell flat with critics as just 24 percent gave a positive review on aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes. But audiences polled by survey firm CinemaScore awarded the movie an A-.

In second place, World War Two story "Red Tails" far exceeded studio forecasts with $19.1 million domestically.

"Red Tails" stars Terrence Howard and Cuba Gooding Jr. in a drama about Tuskegee Airmen -- a black pilot group in the U.S. Army Air Corps during World War Two. Producer George Lucas paid the film's $58 million production cost plus marketing expenses, and distributor 20th Century Fox had forecast $8 million to $10 million in domestic ticket sales for weekend.

"Never in our wildest dreams did we think we could pull off a number like this," said Chris Aronson, senior vice president for domestic distribution at 20th Century Fox. He said audiences clearly enjoyed the film, giving it an A grade in polling by CinemaScore. Critics' reviews on Rotten Tomatoes came in at 34 percent positive.   Continued...