LOS ANGELES – John Travolta's new thriller Swordfish hooked enough movie-goers to debut as the weekend's top film, earning $18.4 million.
Swordfish stars Travolta playing a villainous agent out to steal billions to finance anti-terrorist attacks.
Holding well, the animated Shrek retained the No. 2 spot with $17.1 million, pushing its four-week total to $176.6 million. Pearl Harbor, the No. 1 film for two straight weekends, slipped to third place with $14.9 million, raising its total to $144.1 million after three weeks.
The David Duchovny-Julianne Moore comedy Evolution debuted at No. 4 with $13.2 million. Directed by Ivan Reitman (Ghostbusters), Evolution tells the story of bumbling scientists battling alien lifeforms.
The overall box office continued this year's upward trend. The top 12 movies grossed $94.8 million, up 3.3 percent from the same weekend a year ago. So far in 2001, Hollywood revenues are running about 9.5 percent ahead of last year's record pace.
Despite generally bad reviews, Swordfish wound up as Travolta's third-best debut ever, behind Face/Off and The General's Daughter. Swordfish also soundly beat the openings of Travolta's last two movies, the black comedy Lucky Numbers and Battlefield Earth, one of Hollywood's biggest bombs in years.
Box-office analysts had not expected Swordfish to debut so strongly.
"It's good to be back in the John Travolta business," said Dan Fellman, head of distribution for Warner Bros., which released Swordfish and also Battlefield Earth. "We beat the odds. The tracking had us down the totem pole, but people really like this movie."
The market was crowded with movies rated PG-13, so the R-rated Swordfish may have satisfied pent-up demand for an adult action thriller, said Paul Dergarabedian, president of box-office tracker Exhibitor Relations.
Playing in 2,678 locations, Swordfish averaged a solid $6,882 a theater. Shrek averaged $4,603 in 3,715 theaters, Pearl Harbor did $4,578 in 3,255 locations and Evolution averaged $5,056 in 2,611 cinemas.
Disney had promising news for a trial run of Atlantis: The Lost Empire, which opened to packed houses, grossing $341,588 at two theaters in New York City and Los Angeles. Featuring the voice of Michael J. Fox, the animated adventure follows a band of explorers seeking the sunken city.
Atlantis opens nationwide next weekend, along with Tomb Raider, starring Angelina Jolie as video-game hero Lara Croft.
In limited release, Jennifer Jason Leigh and Alan Cumming's The Anniversary Party had a strong debut of $167,000 in 11 theaters, for a $15,182 average. The film expands to about 100 theaters June 22.
A melodrama about a crumbling marriage, The Anniversary Party was written and directed by Leigh and Cumming. They also head the ensemble cast, which includes Gwyneth Paltrow, Kevin Kline and Parker Posey.
Estimated ticket sales for Friday through Sunday at North American theaters, according to Exhibitor Relations Co. Inc. Final figures are to be released Monday.
1. Swordfish, $18.4 million.
2. Shrek, $17.1 million.
3. Pearl Harbor, $14.9 million.
4. Evolution, $13.2 million.
5. The Animal, $9.8 million.
6. Moulin Rouge, $7.6 million.
7. What's the Worst That Could Happen?, $5.4 million.
8. The Mummy Returns, $4.2 million.
9. A Knight's Tale, $1.7 million.
10. Bridget Jones's Diary, $1.2 million.