(Corrects last name of actress Amanda Seyfried in 4th paragraph)
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The new romantic drama “Dear John” unexpectedly ended the seven-week reign of “Avatar” at the weekend box office in North America on Sunday, pulling in large numbers of young female moviegoers.
“Dear John” grossed an estimated $32.4 million in the three-day period since opening Friday, said distributor Screen Gems, the low-budget division of Sony Corp.
It had hoped for an opening of about $20 million on a weekend when many Americans forsake movies to watch the Super Bowl, traditionally the year’s most-watched television broadcast. The football championship starts around 6:25 p.m. (2325 GMT) in Miami.
“Dear John” stars Channing Tatum and Amanda Seyfried as lovers whose romance is curtailed by the Sept. 11 attacks. It is directed by Swedish filmmaker Lasse Hallstrom and based on “The Notebook,” a novel by Nicholas Sparks.
Audiences for the film were 84 percent female and two-thirds were under the age of 21, Sony said.
The last romantic comedy to hit theaters was the widely panned “Leap Year” about a month ago. “The Lovely Bones,” another box office disappointment, also has made a play for young women after failing to get any traction during the annual movie awards season.
“Avatar” earned $23.6 million in its eighth weekend, taking its total to $630.1 million. James Cameron’s sci-fi blockbuster surpassed the $601 million haul of his 1997 release “Titanic” last Tuesday to become the biggest movie of all time in the United States and Canada.
The data are not adjusted for ticket-price inflation or for the higher cost of 3D engagements. The film was released by 20th Century Fox, a unit of News Corp.
John Travolta’s latest box office offering, “From Paris With Love,” was the actor’s worst start in almost a decade. The crime thriller opened at No. 3 with $8.1 million, falling short of modest industry expectations.
Travolta’s previous worst opening was the $4.5 million start for “Lucky Numbers” in October 2000. Travolta was in theaters last November with “Old Dogs,” which opened at ticket sales of $17 million.
“From Paris With Love” was distributed by Lionsgate, a unit of Lions Gate Entertainment Corp. French filmmaker Pierre Morel directed it.
Many critics ripped both new releases.
Also new to the top 10 was “Crazy Heart,” which expanded nationally after seven weekends in limited release on the heels of its three Oscar nominations on Tuesday.
The picture earned $3.65 million, jumping six places to No. 8. Jeff Bridges, its star, is considered the favourite to take home the best actor Oscar on March 7 for his role as a washed-up country music singer and songwriter. It was released by Fox Searchlight, the art-house unit of 20th Century Fox.
“Avatar” and “The Hurt Locker,” now out on DVD, led the Oscar field with nine nominations each.
Reporting by Dean Goodman; Editing by Paul Simao