'Coach Carter' Scores Big at Box Office

Samuel L. Jackson (search) coached his latest movie to a box-office championship.

"Coach Carter," stars Jackson as a real-life high-school basketball mentor who shuts down the program to focus on his players' lagging academic education.

The film debuted as the top weekend movie with $23.6 million (euro18 million), studio estimates released Sunday show.

The blockbuster comedy "Meet the Fockers," (search) which had been No. 1 for three straight weekends, slipped to second place with $19 million (euro14.5 million), lifting its total domestic gross to $230.8 million (euro176.3 million).

The family film "Racing Stripes," a live-action and computer-animation combo about a talking zebra that yearns to be a racehorse, opened at No. 3 with $14 million (euro10.7 million).

"In Good Company," a workplace comic drama starring Dennis Quaid (search), Topher Grace (search) and Scarlett Johansson (search), had a strong nationwide debut after two weeks of limited release. The film expanded to 1,566 theaters and came in at No. 4 with $13.9 million (euro10.6 million), averaging a healthy $8,876 (euro6,780) per cinema, compared to $9,350 (euro7,142) in 2,524 theaters for "Coach Carter."

Jennifer Garner's action flick "Elektra," a spinoff of the Marvel Comics adaptation "Daredevil," finished fifth with $12.5 million (euro9.6 million). That was less than a third of the weekend haul for "Daredevil," which debuted as the No. 1 movie in February 2002.

The acclaimed martial-arts epic "House of Flying Daggers," from director Zhang Yimou, had a weak nationwide debut after six weeks in narrow release. The film managed just $1.8 million (euro1.4 million) in 1,190 theaters, averaging $1,500 (euro1,146).

Hollywood continued its robust start to 2005, with revenues rising for the third-straight weekend. The top 12 movies took in $115.7 million (euro88.4 million), up 23 percent from the same weekend last year.

"This is the right way to start the year, without question," said Paul Dergarabedian, president of box-office tracker Exhibitor Relations. "These three weekends set the tone for what will hopefully be much improved box office for the year."

Movie theaters had record revenues of $9.4 billion (euro7.2 billion) in 2004, but only because of higher ticket prices. Factoring in the rise in admission prices, attendance last year was off slightly for the second straight year.

Produced by MTV Films, "Coach Carter" follows the company's "Varsity Blues" and "Save the Last Dance" as box-office successes for teen and twenty-something audiences early in the year, typically a quiet time at movie theaters.

Films competing for Sunday's Golden Globes and the upcoming Academy Awards nominations held up well as they continued their expansion to more theaters.

"The Aviator" was No. 7 with $4.8 million (euro3.7 million) and "The Phantom of the Opera" came in ninth with $3.55 million (euro2.7 million). In narrower release, "Sideways" remained strong with $2.2 million (euro1.7 million), as did "Million Dollar Baby" at $1.7 million (euro1.3 million) and "Hotel Rwanda" at $1.55 million (euro1.2 million) .

Estimated ticket sales for Friday through Sunday at North American theaters, according to Exhibitor Relations Co. Inc. Final figures will be released Monday.

1. "Coach Carter," $23.6 million (euro18 million).

2. "Meet the Fockers," $19 million (euro14.5 million).

3. "Racing Stripes," $14 million (euro10.7 million).

4. "In Good Company," $13.9 million (euro10.6 million).

5. "Elektra," $12.5 million (euro9.6 million).

6. "White Noise," $12.2 million (euro9.3 million).

7. "The Aviator," $4.8 million (euro3.7 million).

8. "Lemony Snicket's a Series of Unfortunate Events," $4 million (euro3.1 million).

9. "The Phantom of the Opera," $3.55 million (euro2.7 million).

10. "Ocean's Twelve," $2.9 million (euro2.2 million).