Gellar's fright flick "The Grudge" got a jump on Halloween with a $40 million opening weekend to debut at No. 1, while Affleck delivered a holiday turkey on "Surviving Christmas," his critically drubbed comedy coming in at No. 7 with just $4.5 million.
The animated "Shark Tale," the top movie for three straight weekends, slipped to second place with $14.3 million, lifting its total to $136.9 million, according to studio estimates Sunday.
"The Grudge," a remake of a Japanese horror hit, stars Gellar as an American student in Tokyo terrorized by a raging spirit lingering in a house with a violent history.
Debuting in 3,245 theaters, "The Grudge" averaged a healthy $12,327 a cinema.
The movie marks the English-language debut for director Takashi Shimizu (search), who also made the Japanese original. "The Grudge" was produced by the horror outfit created by "Spider-Man" filmmaker Sam Raimi, who got his start with the cult fright flick "The Evil Dead."
Audiences this time of year are in the mood for scary movies, but the big debut for "The Grudge" indicates it grabbed more than the usual Halloween crowd, said Rory Bruer, head of distribution for Sony, which released the movie.
"I would say that when you do $40 million, it's got to be more than" the Halloween influence, Bruer said. "You have Sam Raimi, who's got incredible knowledge of this genre. We had tremendous marketing, and Sarah Michelle Gellar, who was out there pounding the pavement, fighting for this film."
Sony executives expect "The Grudge" to hold up well next weekend because of Halloween.
"Surviving Christmas" did barely better than Affleck's notorious 2003 bomb "Gigli," which had a $3.8 million opening weekend.
The movie stars Affleck as a lonely guy who hires a pretend family for the holidays. Critics trashed the movie, whose release was delayed a year to avoid bumping up against Affleck's thriller "Paycheck" during the 2003 holiday season.
Executives at DreamWorks, which released "Surviving Christmas," were unavailable for comment Sunday, a spokeswoman said.
Along with terrible reviews, "Surviving Christmas" may have been hurt by its October release date, unusually early for a yuletide movie.
"It is a little early, but people would accept Christmas in October if it had been a really good movie," said Paul Dergarabedian, president of box-office tracker Exhibitor Relations. "I don't think it was the release date. I think it was the critical panning."
After three weeks in limited release, critical favorite "I (Heart) Huckabees" expanded nationwide and broke into the top 10 with $3 million.
Another darling of critics, the road-trip comedy "Sideways," had a stellar debut in four New York City and Los Angeles theaters, grossing $208,293 to average $52,073. Directed by Alexander Payne ("About Schmidt"), "Sideways" stars Paul Giamatti as a loser in love on a bachelor spree at California wineries with a buddy who's about to marry.
"Sideways" gradually expands into nationwide release through Thanksgiving week.
"The Machinist," starring Christian Bale as a man coming unhinged after a year without sleep, also opened strongly in limited release with $64,000 in three New York City and Los Angeles theaters, averaging $21,333.
Estimated ticket sales for Friday through Sunday at North American theaters, according to Exhibitor Relations Co. Inc. Final figures will be released Monday.
1. "The Grudge," $40 million.
2. "Shark Tale," $14.3 million.
3. "Shall We Dance?", $8.6 million.
4. "Friday Night Lights," $7 million.
5. "Team America: World Police," $6.6 million.
6. "Ladder 49," $5.4 million.
7. "Surviving Christmas," $4.5 million.
8. "Taxi," $4.25 million.
9. "The Forgotten," $3.4 million.
10. "I (Heart) Huckabees," $3 million.