LOS ANGELES – Robert De Niro's (search) fright flick "Hide and Seek" found an eager audience, taking in $22 million to debut as the top weekend movie and fending off a rush of Academy Awards contenders.
The previous weekend's No. 1 movie, Ice Cube's (search) road-trip comedy "Are We There Yet?", slipped to second place with $17 million, lifting its 10-day total to $39.1 million, according to studio estimates Sunday.
Director Clint Eastwood's (search) "Million Dollar Baby" led Oscar hopefuls with $11.8 million, coming in at No. 3 during its first weekend of wide release, raising its total domestic gross to $21.1 million.
Cashing in on its seven Oscar nominations last week, the boxing drama expanded to 2,010 theaters, up about 1,800 from the previous weekend.
"Million Dollar Baby" is in a neck-and-neck race for best picture and director at the Oscars with Martin Scorsese's "The Aviator," which was No. 6 for the weekend with $7.5 million, pushing its total to $68.2 million.
"The Aviator," a film biography of Howard Hughes that leads the Oscar field with 11 nominations, was in 2,503 cinemas, an increase of 242.
Eastwood won top honors Saturday night over Scorsese from the Directors Guild of America for "Million Dollar Baby." He also earned the Golden Globe directing prize, while "The Aviator" beat "Million Dollar Baby" for best dramatic film at the Globes.
In its 15th week of release, best-picture nominee "Sideways" broke into the top 10, coming in seventh with $6.3 million as it widened to 1,694 theaters, up about 1,000. The road-trip romp has taken in $40 million playing in relatively narrow release before now.
"The Oscar bump is in full evidence this weekend," said Paul Dergarabedian, president of box-office tracker Exhibitor Relations.
The weekend's only other new wide release, Tara Reid and Christian Slater's scary movie "Alone in the Dark," bombed with just $2.5 million, finishing well out of the top 10. Viciously trashed by critics, the movie stars Reid as an anthropologist and Slater as a paranormal investigator battling mutant monsters.
"Hide and Seek" also received harsh reviews, but like many other fright films, it drew in the faithful horror crowd, which is rarely dissuaded by critics if a movie looks like it has some decent scares.
De Niro plays a dad coping with the potentially murderous "imaginary friend" of his daughter (Dakota Fanning).
Horror stories often nosedive in their second weekend, but De Niro's presence could give "Hide and Seek" more staying power, said Bruce Snyder, head of distribution for 20th Century Fox, which released the movie.
"Because of the cache of De Niro, which makes it quite a bit above the normal things-that-go-bump-in-the-night movie, I think we'll fare well," Snyder said.
Among other key Oscar nominees:
— The J.M. Barrie tale "Finding Neverland," which earned seven nominations including best picture, grossed $2.7 million to raise its total to $35.9 million. The film widened to 1,258 theaters, up 389.
— "Hotel Rwanda," with a best-actor nomination for Don Cheadle and supporting-actress nomination for Sophie Okonedo, took in $1.8 million in 417 theaters, 98 more locations than the previous weekend. The genocide drama lifted its total to $8.1 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. "Hide and Seek," $22 million.
2. "Are We There Yet?", $17 million.
3. "Million Dollar Baby," $11.8 million.
4. "Coach Carter," $8 million.
5. "Meet the Fockers," $7.6 million.
6. "The Aviator," $7.5 million.
7. "Sideways," $6.3 million.
8. "In Good Company," $6.2 million.
9. "Racing Stripes," $6 million.
10. "Assault on Precinct 13," $4.2 million.