NEW YORK — On Oscar weekend, the real-life action stars of “Act of Valor” bested Hollywood’s pretend heroes.
The Relativity Media action flick, starring real, active-duty U.S. Navy SEALs, topped the weekend box office, earning $24.7 million according to studio estimates Sunday. That was a strong opening for a unique film made in collaboration with the Navy, which sought to demonstrate the skill and bravery of the SEALs without Hollywood imitation.
“How often can you repeat the same heroes that are big stars pretending to be heroes?” said Kyle Davies, president of worldwide distribution for Relativity. “I think moviegoers are ready for a new, fresh experience.”
“Act of Valor” led another strong weekend at the box office, as it was up 24.4 percent over the corresponding weekend last year. Attendance this year is up 20.4 percent, a surge that hasn’t been driven by Academy Awards contenders but by new films in a traditionally tepid movie-going season.
“The newcomers this year have just been igniting the box office,” said Paul Dergarabedian, box office analyst for Hollywood.com. “It’s a very competitive marketplace for both the Oscar contenders and the newcomers.”
Lionsgate’s “Tyler Perry’s Good Deeds,” a more dramatic offering for the consistently popular Perry, opened with a healthy $16 million. Its audience was resoundingly female (76 percent) and may have been slightly diminished by the appeal of Denzel Washington in the thriller “Safe House.” That earned $11.4 million, bringing its cumulative total to $98.1 million.
The success of “Act of Valor” validated an unusual strategy for Relativity, a production company that began distributing movies in 2010.
Relativity purchased the film, independently produced by the Bandito Brothers, for $13 million. It stoked interest through more than 400 advance screenings and a robust TV ad campaign that included Super Bowl commercials. Its marketing budget was reportedly approximately $30 million.
Though the film garnered poor reviews, audiences gave it an “A,” according to CinemaScore. It has resonated with males, who made up 71 percent of the audience.
Internationally, the film, which plays much as patriotic propaganda, may face a stiffer challenge. It will open in foreign markets in future weeks, distributed by Film Nation.
Ahead of Sunday night’s Academy Awards, no Oscar-contender finished in the top 10. Most of the favorites have been playing for weeks, if not months.