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The 15 most impressive box office performances of 2013 -- so far

We’re officially halfway through 2013, and if you’re an obsessive box office junkie like me, that means it’s time to reflect back on the past six months at the movies and give credit to some of the best box office performances so far this year.

By “best,” I don’t simply mean “highest grossing” — you can find that list here – I mean most impressive. Since each movie has its own budget, its own marketing costs, and its own distribution challenges, each movie also has its own standard for success. I like to judge films on their own rubrics — so I have!

This year, there were a lot of close calls. Films like Oz The Great and Powerful and This is the End were this close to making the list (A Good Day to Die Hard and Jack the Giant Slayer, meanwhile, were not), but not everything could make the cut. Thus, here is my totally-up-for-debate list of the 15 Most Impressive Box Office Performances of 2013 so far. (Shown in order of highest-to-lowest grossing)
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Box office report: 'Warm Bodies' alive and well with $20 million; Sly Stallone's 'Bullet' misfires

Young women drove Summit’s zombie-themed romantic comedy Warm Bodies to the top spot at the box office over Super Bowl weekend, while Sylvester Stallone’s Bullet to the Head got tackled, leaving the action icon with the worst debut of his career.

Warm Bodies, which was financed for about $35 million, earned an estimated $20 million from 3,009 theaters in its first three days. No, that’s not a Twilight-sized number, but no one was expecting Warm Bodies to be the same sort of blockbuster. Sure, they’re both about romances between a teenage girl and an undead boy, but the Isaac Marion novel upon which it is based is certainly popular, but it never experienced the utter ubiquity that the Twilight books did.

Warm Bodies opened with a bit less than the 2009 comedy Zombieland, which debuted with $24.7 million, but its star was in line with the debuts of both Chronicle and The Woman In Black, which opened on Super Bowl weekend last year to $22 million and $20.9 million, respectively. Much like the latter film, Warm Bodies played primarily to young ladies. According to exit polling, the film’s audience was 60% female and 65% under 25.

Warm Bodies earned a solid “B+” CinemaScore grade from crowds, and thanks to relatively strong reviews, its legs may not rot away as quickly as other teen-targeting titles, and a finish in the $50-60 million range seems likely. For star Nicholas Hoult, who has a slew of high profile releases — including Jack the Giant Slayer, Mad Max: Fury Road, and X-Men: Days of Future Past — on the horizon, Warm Bodies is a nice start to his run as a leading man.

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Box office update: 'Warm Bodies' warms up the chart with $8.7 million on Friday

Its main star may be a dead guy, but Summit’s new release Warm Bodies exhibited nothing but life in its first day at the box office.

The zombie-themed romantic comedy (zom-rom-com?) easily topped the chart on Friday with $8.7 million. Last year, the teen superpower adventure Chronicle earned $8.6 million the Friday before Super Bowl Sunday and finished the frame with $22 million. Since Warm Bodies, which is based on the popular novel by Isaac Marion, already has a built-in following, it’s likely that it will be more frontloaded and finish the weekend with about $20 million. Still, that’s a tremendous start for a high-concept comedy that cost about $35 million.

The weekend’s other new wide release, Sylvester Stallone’s R-rated action flick Bullet to the Head, got off to an even worse start than Arnold Schrwazenegger’s The Last Stand did two weeks ago. Bullet to the Head, which cost a reported $55 million, only bulleted a fifth place start with an anemic $1.7 million from 2,404 theaters. The film is headed to a truly terrible $4.5 million weekend.

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Box office preview: 'Warm Bodies' to tackle 'Bullet to the Head' over Super Bowl weekend

It’s Super Bowl weekend, and that means the box office is about to get sacked.

Since much of the American moviegoing public will will be glued to the tube on Sunday to watch the Baltimore Ravens take on the San Francisco 49ers, box office receipts are expected to plummet, though some brave souls will venture out to see this week’s new wide releases: the zombie romance Warm Bodies and Sylvester Stallone’s shoot-em-up Bullet to the Head.

Here’s how the slow frame may play out:
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Box office report: 'Hansel and Gretel' wins with $19M; 'Movie 43' flops with $5M, 'D' CinemaScore

This weekend, Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters hunted down the No. 1 spot at the box office with $19 million from 3,372 theaters. Although Hansel and Gretel can hardly be called a fairy-tale success at this point, it proved far more bewitching than fellow newcomers Parker and Movie 43, which were left with only bread crumbs in their sad debut frame.

Paramount and MGM spent $50 million to produce Hansel and Gretel, which was shot in 2011 and originally scheduled to be released in March 2012. Distributor Paramount moved the film’s release to this month to capitalize on star Jeremy Renner, whom the studio hoped would blossom into a true box-office draw following The Avengers and The Bourne Legacy. (It also seems likely that Hansel and Gretel got placed in January due to its poor quality — January tends to be a dumping ground for studios’ stinkers.) Whether or not Renner had anything to do with it, the date change proved at least somewhat effective — Hansel and Gretel outgrossed the last supernatural fantasy with Hunter in the title, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, which staked a weak $16.3 million in its debut frame. READ FULL STORY

Box office update: 'Hansel and Gretel' wins Friday with $6 million; 'Parker' and 'Movie 43' bomb

For the second week in a row, three new movies entered cinemas, and only one of them is scoring healthy grosses, leaving the other two to languish right out of the gate.

Almost a year after its originally scheduled March 2012 release, Paramount’s $50 million Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters topped the chart on its first Friday with $6.0 million from 3,372 theaters. The poorly reviewed film (a phrase that applies to all this weekend’s new releases) stars Gemma Arteron and Jeremy Renner, but the Avengers star has demonstrated little drawing power as a leading man so far. Hansel and Gretel may take in about $16 million worth of [gingerbread] dough over the full weekend frame. READ FULL STORY

Box office preview: 'Hansel and Gretel' set to lead Grimm weekend

Last weekend, Mama managed to break out at the box office, while fellow newcomers The Last Stand and Broken City were left with only crumbs. This time around, Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters is looking to follow those crumbs straight to the top of the chart.

Also opening is the comedy Movie 43 and the Jason Statham action film Parker. Perhaps unsurprisingly, virtally no critics have seen any of the three new releases. Welcome to January at the box office. READ FULL STORY

Box office report: 'Mama' punishes the boys with scary good $33 million holiday weekend

As reported yesterday, Jessica Chastain accomplished the rare feat of simultaneously starring in both the number one and number two movies in the country this weekend (not to mention, crushing two new releases in the process), and that stayed true over the extended holiday frame.

Over the four-day weekend, Mama scared up a tremendous $33 million (its three-day cume was adjusted up to $28.5 million), making the $15 million film a huge winner for Universal. Horror movies play particularly well in January — just two weeks ago Texas Chainsaw 3D topped the chart — but Mama had a lot working in its favor. Its female protagonist (Chastain) and PG-13 rating drew young women into the theater, as 61 percent of the opening weekend audience was female, and 63 percent were below the age of 25. The cachet of exec-producer Guillermo Del Toro also brought cinephiles through the doors.

Mama debuted in 2,647 theaters, where it earned a very healthy $12,480 average, but given the film’s weak “B-” CinemaScore grade and the horror genre’s frontloaded nature, it seems likely that Mama will nosedive from here. It may perform in the same range as last October’s Paranormal Activity 4, which opened with $29.0 million in its first three days on the way to $53.9 million total. READ FULL STORY

Box office update: Jessica Chastain takes No. 1 and No. 2 with 'Mama' and 'Zero Dark Thirty'

Jessica Chastain is having a moment. Not only did the red-headed Oscar nominee win a Golden Globe last weekend for her work in Zero Dark Thirty, which forced her to take a night off from her Broadway run — yes she’s starring in Broadway’s The Heiress during the thick of awards season — but she’s now achieved something few actors have ever managed: she currently holds the number one and number two movies at the box office.

Chastain’s latest vehicle, Mama, crushed the competition over the three-day weekend with a whopping $28.1 million. Universal, who produced the PG-13 film for only $15 million, opened Mama in 2,647 theaters, where it earned a terrific $10,624 average. The horror title played very well with young women — 61 percent of viewers were female, and 63 percent were below the age of 25. Unfortunately, most of those audiences weren’t overly enthusiastic about what they saw, issuing Mama a lackluster “B-” CinemaScore grade.

Chastain’s other entry, Zero Dark Thirty, fell only 28 percent in its sophomore weekend of wide release to $17.6 million, which brought the Osama Bin Laden huntdown’s total to $55.9 million. Controversy continues to boost the Kathryn Bigelow-directed drama’s profile, but great word-of-mouth seems to be playing just as big of a role in Zero Dark Thirty‘s success.

It’s fair to say that Chastain’s presence in both Mama and Zero Dark Thirty had little to do with each film’s successful box office performance. Neither was marketed on her appeal, and yet, that doesn’t take away from her achievement.

Silver Linings Playbook performed very nicely in its nationwide expansion. Upon jumping from 810 to 2,523 theaters, Playbook increased 126 percent to $11.4 million, which brings its total to $55.3 million so far. (Kudos to the Weinstein Co. for its deftly executed platform strategy. If they had opened Silver Linings Playbook in wide release, as planned, we almost certainly wouldn’t be talking about it 10 weeks later.) In the month leading up to Oscar season, good word-of-mouth may continue to carry Silver Linings Playbook to a total as high as $100 million.

In fourth place, Warner Bros.’ crime drama Gangster Squad fell 47 percent to $9.1 million, giving the $60 million Sean Penn/Josh Brolin action flick an unremarkable $32.2 million total after ten days.

Still, Gangster Squad’s second weekend was better than the debuts of new releases Broken City and The Last Stand, which both flopped out of the gate. Fox’s $35 million Broken City, which stars the usually reliable Mark Wahlberg alongside Russell Crowe, drew only $9.0 million worth of tickets from 2,620 theaters, while Lionsgate’s $45 million The Last Stand, an Arnold Schwarznegger film, fared even worse with a puny $6.3 million. Both films played primarily to older male audiences (who are also seeing Zero Dark Thirty and Gangster Squad), and they may have cannibalized each other over their first three days.

1. Mama – $28.1 million
2. Zero Dark Thirty – $17.6 million
3. Silver Linings Playbook – $11.4 million
4. Gangster Squad – $9.1 million
5. Broken City – $9.0 million

Check back tomorrow for the full box office report, which will cover the four-day holiday weekend.

For more box office musing and updates:

RELATED Box office update: ‘Mama’ scares up $10 million Friday

Box office update: 'Mama' scares up $10 million on Friday; Arnold Schwarznegger's latest D.O.A.

Mama just killed a man. Well, a whole bunch of men, actually. Namely, Arnold Schwarznegger, Russell Crowe, and Mark Wahlberg.

Universal’s $15 million Guillermo Del Toro-produced horror film Mama easily topped the box office on Friday with a sizzling $10 million, putting it on pace for a shriek-worthy $31 million over the four-day frame. Mama will become the second straight chart-topper for star Jessica Chastain, who reigned atop the box office last week with Zero Dark Thirty. READ FULL STORY

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