The undead came alive once more over the weekend as "Resident Evil: Apocalypse (search)" debuted at No. 1 at the box office, bringing in $23.7 million.
The sequel to 2002's "Resident Evil," based on a video game series about shooting apart shuffling, bio-poisoned zombie attackers, follows hits like last year's remake of "Dawn of the Dead" and the zombie art-house thriller "28 Days Later," which reinvigorated the genre.
Overall, however, it was a slow week for new releases as most kids headed back to school and the big-budget blockbusters of summer evaporated in favor of B-movie-style thrillers and monster movies.
The suspense drama "Cellular (search)," with Kim Basinger as a kidnapping victim who makes a random phone call to a cell phone and pleads with a stranger to find her, opened at No. 2 with $10.6 million.
"'Cellular' did OK, but every other movie was just treading water behind 'Resident Evil,"' said Paul Dergarabedian, president of box office tracker Exhibitor Relations Co. (search)
"Resident Evil: Apocalypse" stars Milla Jovovich as Alice, a bath-towel wearing, butt-kicking security chief who tries to help a group of survivors escape a zombified metropolis before the city of ghouls is annihilated by a nuclear strike.
With its miniskirted heroines and gooey guts-a-plenty, "Apocalypse" appealed mainly to guys under the age of 25.
"Certainly this is an adaptation from a game, so it has its own audience," said Rory Brewer, distribution chief for Sony, which released the film. "The zombies aspect of it is just fun."
Brewer also credited the marketing campaign, which featured early teaser trailers that had little to do with the action-horror theme.
"These movies come out of nowhere and do big business and everybody is caught off-guard, but we really shouldn't be," said Dergarabedian. "These horror thrillers always make a killing at the box office. ... They're not trying to woo the critics with this move. It's about commerce."
The rest of the top 10 were holdovers from previous weeks. "Napoleon Dynamite (search)," a weird little independent comedy about a weird little guy and his friends, was notable for hanging in at No. 9 after 14 weeks in theaters. Most movies drop out after about three weeks.
The top 12 movies grossed $64.7 million, about 11 percent lower than the same weekend last year, when "Once Upon a Time in Mexico" led the box office.
Estimated ticket sales for Friday through Sunday at North American theaters, according to Exhibitor Relations Co. Inc. Final figures will be released Monday.
1. "Resident Evil: Apocalypse," $23.7 million.
2. "Cellular," $10.6 million.
3. "Without a Paddle," $4.6 million.
4. "Hero," $4.4 million.
5. "Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement," $2.93 million.
6. "Anacondas: The Hunt for the Blood Orchid," $2.90 million.
7. "Vanity Fair," $2.74 million.
8. "Collateral," $2.70 million.
9. "Napoleon Dynamite," $2.65 million.
10. "Paparazzi," $2.60 million.