Your Box Office Explained: Liam Neeson Shows Alex Pettyfer How It’s Done

This Weekend’s Winners: Unknown ($25.6 million), and specifically, Liam Neeson; Gnomeo and Juliet (nearly $25 million) over four glorious winter nights.

This Weekend’s Losers: I Am Number Four ($22 million and change), and specifically, Alex Pettyfer.

How It All Went Down: Headed into the three-day President’s Day weekend, the tracking numbers for Unknown prefigured mediocrity. Both I Am Number Four and Unknown had 40 percent of moviegoers expressing “definite interest,” but the former had, by far, the greater awareness: 71 percent of moviegoers were aware of the film compared with just 62 percent awareness for Unknown. A studio marketing chief we chat with regularly forecasted Unknown would be lucky to finish third, behind I Am Number Four and — the ultimate in ignominy? — Big Momma’s.

What happened next, of course, shows just how unreliable audience research can be: Over four days, Unknown grossed $25.6 million, clinching the top berth, while I Am Number Four only proved good enough for third place, with $22.6 million over the same time. (That’s in the same neighborhood as Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightening Thief, which is to say, “stillborn franchise” territory.)

How’d Liam do it? Thank ladies of a certain age. More than half (51 percent) of the Unknown audience was female, and almost 90 percent of its audience was 25 and older. And fully 54 percent of the women older-than-25-years who saw it were way older: age 50 and up.

Meanwhile, DreamWorks Pictures’ efforts to Weird Science a Ken doll and Iron Man action figure into an alien hybrid produced something otherworldly all right, but unfortunately the repulsor rays shooting from his palms seemed to repel the very teens Alex Pettyfer was meant to attract: Only 18 percent of the I Am Number Four audience was between 12 and 17 years old; only 43 percent of its audience was female. In the end, his boyish good looks didn’t turn on enough chicks, and his glow-stick fingers didn’t wow enough dudes.

Finally, give it up for the gnomes: Disney’s romantic animation (romanimation?) Gnomeo and Juliet gave up barely a quarter of its audience compared with last weekend, carrying away nearly $25 million (okay, $24.8 million, you churlish bean counter), and what’s more, easily winning Monday, a school holiday. That’s not quite as impressive as the astonishing, barely 10 percent drop that The King’s Speech relished (grossing almost $8 million over the last four days), but it’s remarkable nonetheless. Speech, we ought to note, has now outgrossed both David Fincher’s The Social Network and Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan.

Your Box Office Explained: Liam Neeson Shows Alex Pettyfer How It’s Done