Jessica Chastain movies take top 2 spots at US box office


By Jake Coyle, AP

NEW YORK–Jessica Chastain easily outmuscled Arnold Schwarzenegger and Mark Wahlberg over the weekend, topping the box office with both her supernatural horror film “Mama” and the Oscar-nominated Osama bin Laden hunt thriller “Zero Dark Thirty.”

“Mama” opened well above expectations with a box-office topping US$28.1 million for Universal Pictures, according to studio estimates Sunday. Chastain also held the second spot with “Zero Dark Thirty,” for which she’s nominated by the Academy Awards for best actress. In its second week of wide release, “Zero Dark Thirty” took in US$17.6 million.

The films’ strong performances made an unlikely box-office queen out of a chameleon-like actress that even fans of “Mama” might have trouble recognizing. Chastain, whose credits range from Terrence Malick’s “The Tree of Life” to “The Help” (for which she was also Oscar-nominated), even accomplished the rare feat by besting a couple more traditional box-office stars.

Schwarzenegger’s action flick “The Last Stand” opened with just US$6.3 million for Lionsgate, one of the worst debuts for the brawny 65-year-old star. The film came in 10th.

Though Schwarzenegger co-starred in “The Expendables 2,” which opened with US$28.6 million in August, “The Last Stand” is his first proper starring vehicle since exiting the California governor’s seat in January 2011.

The Mark Wahlberg, Russell Crowe-led New York crime film “Broken City” didn’t fare much better. The Fox release premiered with US$9.1 million.

The Oscar-nominated “Django Unchained,” meanwhile, became the director’s biggest box-office hit in its fourth week. The Weinstein Co. release surpassed his previous film, “Inglourious Basterds,” by adding US$8.2 million for a domestic total of US$138.4 million. But it did exceptional business internationally, taking in US$48.1 million and proving that Tarantino’s Western set in the antebellum South had tremendous appeal worldwide.

But domestically, audiences flocked to the PG-13-rated “Mama,” which bore the imprimatur of the well-respected fantasy-spinner Guillermo Del Toro, a producer.

“Never underestimate the drawing power of a PG-13 horror film,” said Paul Dergarabedian, box-office analyst for Hollywood.com.

Nikki Rocco, head of distribution for Universal Pictures, acknowledged the apparently limitless appetite for such a film, if done right: “That’s why we did it,” she said.

“It’s a fun film without a lot of extraordinary violence,” said Rocco, who added she would have been “thrilled” with a debut in the mid- to high-teens. “Young people like scary stuff.”

With Martin Luther King Jr. Day on Monday, Hollywood will get a virtual four-day weekend at the box office. Universal is predicting “Mama” to finish with US$33.2 million by the end of Monday.

Though horror films generally are a hit with male audiences, “Mama” appealed strongly to females, who made up 61 percent of its moviegoers. That was key on a weekend filled with male-driven movies, including “Broken City,” “The Last Stand,” “Django Unchained” and Warner Bros.’ “Gangster Squad.”

“It’s an incredibly competitive marketplace for testosterone-driven films,” said Dergarabedian.