Nicolas Cage's Ghost Rider movies are nothing if not full of surprises.
Five years ago, the original movie shocked by opening huge.
This time out, Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance shocked by coming up flat.
Channing Tatum's The Vow and Denzel Washington's Safe House, last weekend's one-two punch, stayed atop the weekend standings, albeit in flip-flopped positions, with takes of $23.1 million and $23.8 million, respectively, per updated Friday-Sunday figures.
Safe House's lead over The Vow held up as the latest estimates for Monday's Presidents Day holiday came in.
The Vow, however, has the edge as 2012's No. 1 movie with an overall domestic gross of $88.5 million through Monday; Safe House is right behind with $82.6 million.
Spirit of Vengeance, meanwhile, settled for third place in the Friday-Sunday rankings with 22.1 million; it dropped to fourth place in the four-day, Friday-Monday standings. The showing was far below projections and farther below the 2007 film's $45 million debut.
The Reese Witherspoon spy comedy This Means War, costarring Chris Pine and Tom Hardy, did well with people who showed up: Opening-weekend audiences rated it an A-minus. But its $17.4 million Friday-Sunday take doesn't exactly bode well for Witherspoon's future in spy comedies.
For the Oscar-winner, the opening was on the low end. And while it was in the ballpark of her last movie, the romantic drama Water for Elephants, the 2011 film cost signficantly less to produce than the reputedly $65 million This Means War.
For the prolific Cage, then, is Spirit of Vengeance really a failure?
For starters, the movie opened bigger than any of his last six live-action movies. More important, it's hard to see Spirit of Vengeance not making good on its (frugal) budget once the overseas grosses are all in.
So maybe the better question is: If you're considering scripts, you should totally go for the one with flaming skulls over the one that's the spy comedy, right?
Wrong. Go with the one that's got Washington or the romantically inclined Tatum.
Overall, the Presidents Day weekend got off to a bigger, better start for Hollywood than last year's, per Exhibitor Relations.
Elsewhere, The Secret World of Arrietty, the latest from acclaimed animator Hayao Miyazaki (he produced), scored a Top 10 debut.
Underworld Awakening dropped from the standings after a four-weekend stay. With $61.6 million now in the domestic bank, the sequel seems assured of becoming the top-grossing Underworld installment. (Of possible interest: For a franchise that's produced four movies so far, not a one of them has come close to that still-somewhat magic number: $100 million.)
In limited release, Deep in the Heart, an indie biopic featuring Angelina Jolie's brother James Haven, averaged about $800 at each of its 63 theaters Friday-Sunday.
Here's the rundown of the weekend's top movies, per revised Friday-Sunday domestic numbers, and four-day, holiday-weekend estimates as reported by the studios and BoxOfficeMojo.com:
(Originally published at 9:29 a.m. on Feb. 19, 2012.)