Moviegoers delivered Disney a Christmas gift by pushing its "National Treasure: Book of Secrets" to the top of the North American box office this weekend, according to industry estimates Sunday.
"Book of Secrets, a sequel to 2004's history mystery "National Treasure," pulled in US$45.5 million over the Friday-Sunday period, according to preliminary figures from Exhibitor Relations.
"National Treasure: Book of Secrets" probably will withstand the Christmas Day competition to remain No. 1, said Brandon Gray, president of Box Office Mojo LLC. "This definitely should be the dominant picture for at least the first week," Gray said in an interview. "People of all ages can go to that picture and have a good time."
Nicolas Cage returns as Benjamin Franklin Gates, seeking to dig out the truth behind the assassination of U.S. President Abraham Lincoln and clear a relative's name in the process.
"This ain't 'The Da Vinci Code,' folks, and the reason you can tell is that it's actually quite entertaining," said LA Weekly in one of a slew of good reviews for "National Treasure."
Coming in second was last week's top film, "I Am Legend" starring Will Smith, a fourth remake of Richard Matheson's 1954 science fiction novel.
"Legend" pulled in US$34.2 million, taking its two-week earnings to the blockbuster total of US$137.5 million.
Third was the Christmas-themed "Alvin and the Chipmunks," which took in a strong US$29.0 million in its second week, for US$84.9 million since it opened.
The second of five debut films in the weekend's top 10, "Charlie Wilson's War," grabbed fourth with US$9.6 million in ticket sales.
A stellar crew of Tom Hanks, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Julia Roberts features in the story of an impious U.S. congressman's effort to recruit hardline Muslim fighters to defeat the Russians in 1980s Afghanistan.
Four-fifths of viewers for "Charlie Wilson's War" were 30 and older, an audience that does not necessarily rush out to catch films in the first few days. Universal is counting on the film's good reviews and word-of-mouth to gradually build the audience.
"Everyone knew going in this was a genre that doesn't pop big numbers on opening weekend," said Universal marketing and distribution executive Adam Fogelson. "We wanted to be the sophisticated commercial option for grownups."
Tim Burton's "Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street," came in fifth on the back of some excellent reviews, the New York Times calling it "something close to a masterpiece."
With Johnny Depp in the lead, "Sweeney Todd" earned US$9.4 million in its opening weekend.
The dark musical comedy co-stars Helena Bonham Carter as Todd's accomplice, Mrs. Lovett, was expected to bring in US$9.1 million, Hollywood Stock Exchange said.
Rounding out the top 10 were the new Hilary Swank tear-jerker "P.S. I Love You" (US$6.5 million); "Enchanted" (US$4.2 million); "Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story," (US$4.1 million); "The Golden Compass" (US$4.0 million); and teen pregnancy drama "Juno" (US$3.4 million, despite a very limited release).
Exhibitor Relations said that at US$153.5 million, the take of the top 12 films - also including "Atonement" and "No Country for Old Men" - was up 41 percent from the same pre-Christmas weekend last year.