Bruce Willis in <i>Live Free or Die Hard</i>.

Bruce Willis in Live Free or Die Hard.

BRUCE WILLIS remains a die-hard at the box office.

Willis's action sequel A Good Day to Die Hard, also starring Australian actor Jai Courtney, debuted as the weekend's top draw with a $US25 million ($A24.27 million) debut from Friday to Sunday. The 20th Century Fox release raised its domestic total to $US33.2 million since opening on Thursday for Valentine's Day to get a jump on the long President's Day weekend.

The movie comes 25 years after the original Die Hard and six years after Live Free or Die Hard, the hit that resurrected the franchise centred on Willis's relentless New York City cop John McClane.

The previous weekend's No.1 movie, Universal's comedy Identity Thief starring Jason Bateman and Melissa McCarthy, was a close second with $US23.4 million to lift its haul to $US70.7 million.

Debuting at No.3 with $US21.4 million was Relativity Media's romance Safe Haven, starring Julianne Hough and Josh Duhamel in an adaptation of the Nicholas Sparks novel about a woman who flees her abusive husband and takes up with a sensitive widower. Since opening on Valentine's Day, Safe Haven has taken in $US30.3 million.

The Weinstein Co animated tale Escape from Planet Earth opened at No.4 with $US16.1 million. With a voice cast that includes Brendan Fraser, Jessica Alba, Sarah Jessica Parker and Rob Corddry, the movie follows the adventures of aliens captured by the US military.

Making a weak debut at No.6 was the Warner Bros teen fantasy Beautiful Creatures, which pulled in $US7.5 million for the weekend and $US10 million since opening on Thursday. The movie is based on the first in the best-selling series about a Southern misfit (Alden Ehrenreich) who falls under the spell of a teen witch (Alice Englert).

A Good Day to Die Hard did solid business despite bad reviews for the latest instalment, which sends Willis's McClane to Moscow in search of his estranged son (played by Courtney), an undercover spy who winds up teaming with the old man against Russian bad guys.

The movie's success follows notable flops from two other holdovers of the 1980s action scene, Sylvester Stallone with Bullet to the Head and Arnold Schwarzenegger with The Last Stand.

"There's still life left in the Die Hard franchise. Given the fact that pretty much every other R-rated action movie that's come out this year has completely fallen flat, this is a pretty good showing," said Paul Dergarabedian, an analyst for box-office tracker Hollywood.com.

Willis is "one of the old-guard action stars who still has a solid career going, whereas a lot of these aging action heroes, unless they're in an ensemble cast, they're not able to draw audiences the way they used to".

Overall Hollywood business remained slow, with revenues off for the fourth-straight weekend compared to the same period last year.

Domestic business from Friday to Sunday totalled $US141 million, down 9.4 per cent from the same weekend a year ago, when Safe House and The Vow led the way with about $US23 million each.

A bright spot this year has been strong business for top Academy Awards contenders leading up to next Sunday's Oscars. The weekend's top 20 films included eight of the nine best-picture nominees, seven of which have either topped $US100 million domestically or are close.

Estimated ticket sales are for Friday through to Sunday at US and Canadian theatres, according to Hollywood.com.

A Good Day to Die Hard, $US25 million ($A24.27 million)

Identity Thief, $US23.4 million

Safe Haven, $US21.4 million

Escape from Planet Earth, $US16.1 million

Warm Bodies, $US9 million

Beautiful Creatures, $US7.5 million

Side Effects, $US6.3 million.

Silver Linings Playbook, $US6.1 million

Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters, $US3.5 million

Zero Dark Thirty, $US3.1 million

Estimated weekend ticket sales at international theatres (excluding the US and Canada) for films distributed overseas by Hollywood studios, according to Rentrak:

A Good Day to Die Hard, $US61.5 million

Django Unchained, $US13.7 million

Wreck-It Ralph, $US11.5 million

Les Miserables, $US10 million

Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters, $US9.5 million

Miracle in Cell No. 7, $US8.8 million

Flight, $US7 million

Lincoln, $US6.6 million

Silver Linings Playbook, $US6.5 million

Jack Reacher, $US5.7 million

AP