LOS ANGELES – Vin Diesel's (search) family friendly comedy "The Pacifier" pulled in $30.2 million on its opening weekend to rank as the nation's top-grossing movie, turning his action-star image — and box-office expectations — upside down.
Proving he's more than biceps and tattoos, Diesel's performance as a Navy SEAL (search) turned baby sitter easily outdistanced the weekend's other major opening, "Be Cool" with John Travolta (search).
The sequel to the 1995 comedy "Get Shorty" took in $23.5 million, which ranked it as Travolta's largest weekend opening, according to studio estimates.
"'Pacifier' did better than anyone expected, but you can't underestimate the family audience," said Paul Dergarabedian, president of Exhibitor Relations Co., which tracks box-office figures. "I think people like to see a fish-out-of-water story — an action star in a very unexpected role."
In the Disney comedy, Diesel plays a tough guy who's brought down to size when he's forced into the role of a father figure. The PG-rated makeover recalled another action star's detour into comedy — Arnold Schwarzenegger in "Kindergarten Cop," in which the actor known for his violent "Terminator" roles played a police officer overmatched by a classroom of kids.
Diesel proved "the old axiom that funny is money," said Chuck Viane, Disney's head of distribution. "I think people wanted to see him in this type of role."
"The one secret ingredient we knew we had was the family audience," Viane added. Moviegoers want "to laugh and escape for a few hours."
The film, showing on 3,131 screens, averaged $9,653 per theater, well ahead of opening-weekend rival "Be Cool," which took in an average of $7,307 on 3,216 screens.
MGM, which distributed "Be Cool," was pleased with the film's opening.
"It came in right around where we expected, and it's a new opening record for John Travolta," said Erik Lomis, the company's president of distribution.
Holding the third spot was Will Smith's romantic comedy "Hitch," which took in $12.5 million on 3,438 screens, pushing its four-week total to $138 million.
After a strong debut, "Diary of a Mad Black Woman," the top film last weekend, dropped to fourth place. Its $12 million box office was off 45 percent from the previous week. The drama-comedy is based on a script by Tyler Perry from his play of the same name and features him as a cross-dressed, gun-toting grandmother.
The falloff was not unexpected. Big-studio films often plunge 50 percent or more in the second weekend.
In its 12th week, "Million Dollar Baby" appeared to get a lift from the media splash that came with its haul of Academy Awards, including best picture. The film grossed $8.5 million to secure the fifth spot at the box office, up from $7.2 million and one spot compared to the rankings last weekend.
Miramax's "The Aviator" dropped out of the top 10, falling to 11th with $2.3 million.
Among film's with limited release, Warner Independent's "The Jacket," a time-travel story with Adrien Brody and Keira Knightley, landed in the 10th spot, with $2.7 million, or a $2,002 average on 1,331 screens.
Final figures were to be released Monday.
Revenue from the top 12 movies were estimated at $111 million, down 16 percent from the same weekend last year. The falloff in 2005 was attributed to the popularity last year of Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ," which banked $53 million in its second weekend.
Estimated ticket sales for Friday through Sunday at North American theaters, according to Exhibitor Relations:
1. "The Pacifier," $30.2 million.
2. "Be Cool," $23.5 million.
3. "Hitch," $12.5 million.
4. "Diary of a Mad Black Woman," $12 million.
5. "Million Dollar Baby," $8.5 million.
6. "Constantine," $6 million.
7. "Cursed," $3.9 million.
8. "Man of the House," $3.5 million.
9. "Because of Winn-Dixie," $3.4 million.
10. "The Jacket," $2.7 million.