By Lisa Richwine
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Denzel Washington thriller "Safe House" rose to the No. 1 spot at movie box offices through Sunday, narrowly leading love story "The Vow" over a long holiday weekend in the United States.
"Safe House" took in $24.0 million at North American (U.S. and Canadian) theaters from Friday through Sunday, taking the top slot after a second-place finish when the film debuted a week earlier. The movie earned an average of $7,680 from 3,121 theaters, according to studio estimates compiled by Reuters.
Distributor Universal Pictures projected "Safe House" would gross $28.5 million domestically through Monday, the U.S. Presidents Day holiday. Also on Monday, the film's global sales to date were expected to cross $100 million.
The movie stars Washington as a fugitive on the run with a rookie CIA operative played by Ryan Reynolds. Privately held Relativity Media helped finance the film.
Close behind "Safe House" was last weekend's winner, "The Vow," with $23.6 million domestically from Friday through Sunday, or an average of $7,978 at 2,958 locations. Ticket sales were projected to reach $27.4 million through Monday.
The movie stars Rachel McAdams and Channing Tatum in the story of a man who must win back his wife's heart after she loses her memory in a car crash. Spyglass Entertainment co-financed the film, which has brought in an estimated $108.3 million around the world since its release.
The weekend's strongest new release was third-place "Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance." It opened with $22.0 million domestically for three days and was poised to reach $25.5 million through Monday. The per-theater average was $6,931 on 3,174 screens.
The 3D movie starring Nicolas Cage as the devil's bounty hunter is a follow-up to the original "Ghost Rider," which opened over Presidents Day weekend in 2007.
Sales tallies and rankings could change when studios release new estimates on Monday and final figures on Tuesday.
In fourth place, family film "Journey 2: The Mysterious Island" starring Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson rung up $20.1 million through Sunday. New romantic comedy "This Means War" starring Reese Witherspoon took fifth place with an estimated $17.6 million.
Sales estimates through Monday were not immediately available for "Journey 2" and "This Means War."
The weekend's other new release, Disney animated film "The Secret World of Arrietty," brought in $6.4 million to land in ninth place. The movie about a family of tiny people who live under the floorboards of a country home was expected to reach $8.0 million through Monday.
"Arrietty" played on fewer screens than the top films, earning an average of $4,189 at 1,522 locations.
The movie was originally released as a Japanese film by Studio Ghibli in 2010 and was re-recorded in English.
"Safe House" was released by Universal Pictures, a division of Comcast Corp. The movie studio of Sony Corp released "Ghost Rider" and "The Vow." Time Warner Inc unit Warner Bros. distributed "Journey 2." News Corp's 20th Century Fox released "This Means War." Walt Disney Co distributed "The Secret World of Arrietty."
(Reporting By Lisa Richwine)