“Valentine’s Day” brings in $52.4 million

Females already make up the slight majority of U.S. moviegoers. So forget about it on Valentine’s Day weekend.

Women — who made up an estimated two-thirds of audiences this weekend — propelled the celebrity-loaded Valentine’s Day to victory over Percy Jackson and a wolf man this weekend, raking in $52.4 million, according to studio estimates from Hollywood.com.

The haul was $20 million more than projected and set in just three days the record for any movie opening over the four-day Presidents Day holiday. The previous champ was the 2004 Adam Sandler comedy 50 First Dates, which opened to $45.1 million.

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The debut came despite punishing reviews (15% of critics liked it, according to RottenTomatoes.com) and healthy competition from the children’s book adaptation Percy Jackson &The Olympians: The Lightning Thief and the R-rated thriller The Wolfman.

“The critics weren’t kind, but the younger females, in particular, liked the film, and that’s important to us,” says Day Fellman, distribution chief for Warner Bros., which released Valentine’s, a comedy starring Jessica Alba, Jessica Biel, Jennifer Garner and Anne Hathaway.

Younger female audiences “tend to be the ones who do the most repeat business,” Fellman says. “The audiences have the only reviews that matter. I think we’re headed for $60 million for the holiday.”

Book fans turned out in force for Jackson, which bested expectations by $10 million with $31.1 million, good for second place.

Bert Livingston of 20th Century Fox, which released Jackson, says the fantasy series drew 53% families — “a good sign for the holiday. The movie established itself as the option for different types of audiences.”

Benicio Del Toro‘s The Wolfman didn’t fare well with critics, either, earning just a thumbs-up score of 29%. Still, the monster remake did a solid $30.6 million, about $8 million more than projected.

James Cameron‘s space opera Avatar led all hold-overs, doing $22 million and lifting its all-time high to $659.6 million.

The military romance Dear John rounded out the top five with $15.3 million, lifting its total to $53.2 million.

The strong performances led Hollywood to its best Presidents Day weekend with $193 million, edging last year’s $188 million.

Final figures are due Tuesday.

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