No movies again this weekend, but I do want to see PRISONERS.

Inside Movies Box office report: ‘Prisoners’ locks up a $21 million debut

You don’t need a detective to figure out the biggest winner at the box office this weekend. Prisoners, the R-rated thriller starring Hugh Jackman and Jake Gyllenhaal, brought in an estimated $21.4 million, easily beating second-place finisher Insidious Chapter 2 ($14.5 million) and blowing away the weekend’s only other new wide release, Battle of the Year ($5 million).

Prisoners‘ win is even more impressive when you consider some of the challenges it faced on its way to the top of the chart. Straightforward dramas — at least, ones that don’t star Leonardo DiCaprio — can be a tough sell at the box office, especially when they aren’t based on known source material. (Prisoners is an original screenplay by Contraband scribe Aaron Guzikowski.) Director Denis Villeneuve was untested in Hollywood, having made his name with the critically acclaimed French-language drama Incendies. And the movie didn’t promise any musical numbers, splashy action set pieces, or supernatural scares to lighten its grim story about the search for two kidnapped children.

But Warner Bros. smartly tailored Prisoners‘ marketing around the movie’s obvious strengths, not least of which were a compelling premise, strong reviews (the movie gets an A from EW and a 79% from Rotten Tomatoes) and a hugely appealing, awards-caliber cast. Top-billed is Jackman, who’s been on a box office roll since 2008: The Wolverine, Les Misérables, Real Steel, and X-Men Origins: Wolverine all opened strongly with ad campaigns that put the actor front and center. Prisoners is his best debut ever in a non-musical, non-action drama, outgrossing misfires like 2008′s Australia (which opened with $14.8 million), 2008′s Deception ($2.3 million), and 2006′s The Prestige ($14.8 million). The movie also gives a box office boost to Gyllenhaal, who hasn’t had an unqualified hit since 2005′s Brokeback Mountain, despite consistently earning positive reviews. In fact, Prisoners is the fourth-best opening of his career, behind only 2004′s The Day After Tomorrow ($68.7 million), 2010′s Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time ($30.1 million), and 2005′s Jarhead ($27.7 million). And apparently Gyllenhaal and Villeneuve hit it off: The two also collaborated on the psychological thriller Enemy, which premiered at this year’s Toronto Film Festival and reportedly ignited a bidding war after its well-received debut.

Meanwhile, the curse of the second-weekend-horror-movie struck Insidious Chapter 2, which fell a heavy 64 percent to $14.5 million in its second frame, down from a fearsome $40.3 million bow last week. That’s not at all unusual for scare pics at the box office, although it could indicate a lack of the kind of strong word-of-mouth that turned the first Insidious into a sleeper hit phenomenon in 2011. But Chapter 2‘s total is already $60.9 million — more than the original made in its entire run.

At number three, the Luc Besson-directed action-comedy The Family, starring Robert De Niro and Michelle Pfeiffer, banked a so-so $7 million for a $25.6 million cumulative gross so far, although with its French setting and easy-sell premise (a mafia clan hides in the witness protection program), the movie seems engineered to make most of its cash overseas.

Coming in fourth, the Spanish-language comedy Instructions Not Included continues to defy box office logic, jumping a whopping 17.2% to $5.7 million after studio Lionsgate wisely expanded to 45 more screens. (The movie is now playing at 978 locations, a remarkably wide release for a non-English comedy.) As expected, hefty Saturday and Sunday returns (the movie netted just $1.4 million this Friday) suggest a sizable family audience for the farce. Starring Mexican comedian Eugenio Derbez, Instructions is now the fifth highest-grossing foreign language film of all time at the US box office with a $34.2 million total, surpassing 2001′s Amelie ($33.2 million, not accounting for inflation.) And it will likely overtake 2006′s Pan’s Labyrinth ($37.6 million) before the end of its run.

Rounding out the top five, the dance pic Battle of the Year had two left feet at the box office, grossing a mere $5 million against a budget of $20 million. Maybe the days of hit dance movies are behind us (2006′s Step Up opened to $20.7 million and 2007′s Stomp the Yard drummed up $21.8 million). Or maybe the dismally reviewed Battle — whose only marquee stars are Lost‘s Josh Holloway and Chris Brown — simply didn’t give audiences any good reason to put it on their dance card this weekend.

1. Prisoners — $21.4 million
2. Insidious Chapter 2 — $14.5 million
3. The Family — $7 million
4. Instructions Not Included — $5.7 million
5. Battle of the Year — $5 million

In limited release, Warner Bros. 3D revamp of The Wizard of Oz in IMAX earned $3 million in ninth place — enough to add a few more rubies to Dorothy’s slippers, but nowhere near the $30.2 million bow of Disney’s The Lion King 3D in 2011 or the $17.3 million opening of Titanic 3D last year. 3D rereleases in general have been seeing diminishing returns lately, with 2012′s Monsters, Inc. 3D bowing to just $4.7 million. (Perhaps that’s why Disney recently canned a 3D rerelease of The Little Mermaid.) Still, these conversions aren’t hugely expensive (Titanic‘s cost $18 million), and the renewed awareness they generate can boost the merchandising and licensing potential of a marketable brand like Oz.
Roadside Attractions’ Thank You for Sharing, a dramedy about sex addiction starring Mark Ruffalo and Gwyneth Paltrow, pulled in $608,000 from 269 screens in its first weekend, for a not-so-sexy per-screen average of $2,260.

But weekend’s buzziest limited-release winner was Nicole Holofcener’s grown-up dramedy Enough Said, which boasted a gigantic per-screen average of $60,000 at four locations for a first-weekend gross of $240,000. The movie marks one of the last on-screen appearances by the late James Gandolfini, who costars with Julia Louis-Dreyfus in her first big-screen starring role (and her first movie appearance of any kind since 1997′s Deconstructing Harry). Good reviews, combined with media attention around Gandolfini’s passing, could put Enough Said on track to be one of the biggest earners yet for indie-minded auteur Holofcener, whose highest grosser to date is 2006′s Friends with Money ($13.4 million total).

Enough Said‘s bow was even stronger than the five-theater sneak peek of Ron Howard’s racing drama Rush, which earned a $40,000 per-screen average for a $200,000 total. But that’s undoubtedly pennies compared to the cash the Universal release, which stars Chris Hemsworth as Formula One racing legend James Hunt, will race away with when it expands to 2,200 theaters next week.

Check back next week to see if Prisoners can hold off Rush and new releases Baggage Claim, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2, and Don Jon.