LOS ANGELES – "Robots" (search) ruled the box office as the animated family flick debuted with $36.5 million — a solid opening, but well below the $46.3 million premiere of the filmmakers' previous hit, "Ice Age."
While "Ice Age" (search) opened with little competition for the family crowd, "Robots" faced Vin Diesel's hit "The Pacifier," the previous weekend's No. 1 movie. "The Pacifier" finished a strong second with $18.1 million, lifting its 10-day total to $54.4 million, according to studio estimates Sunday.
The weekend's other new wide release, the Bruce Willis (search) police thriller "Hostage," debuted at No. 4 with $9.8 million.
Mel Gibson's religious blockbuster "The Passion of the Christ," which grossed $370 million last year, made barely a ripple at theaters in a recut version that toned down the blood and violence. "The Passion Recut" played in 957 theaters but took in just $239,850.
In sharp contrast to the firestorm over the original film, the new version of "The Passion" arrived quietly, with little fanfare. The fact that the original is available on DVD limited theatrical prospects for the recut edition.
Gibson said he recut the movie for people who were put off by the brutality of the original, which explicitly depicted Christ's scourging and crucifixion.
"We certainly had higher expectations than what we got," said Rob Schwartz, head of distribution for Newmarket Films, which released "The Passion of the Christ" and the new cut. "We were trying to get the film out there hoping it would reach an audience that it didn't reach the first time around. It doesn't seem to have worked out quite as well as we had hoped."
Newmarket executives hope more movie-goers will turn out as Easter approaches, Schwartz said.
"Robots," featuring the voices of Ewan McGregor, Halle Berry, Robin Williams and Mel Brooks, is the second feature-length cartoon tale from "Ice Age" directors Chris Wedge and Carlos Saldanha. The movie tracks the adventures of an idealistic robot inventor who moves to the big city.
While "Robots" did not enter theaters with the profile of "Shrek 2" and "The Incredibles," which opened to sky-high numbers, it had been expected to rival the opening weekends for 2002's "Ice Age" and last year's "Shark Tale."
But competing with "The Pacifier," "Robots" fell about $10 million short of both those debuts.
"Those other movies didn't have anything that was working the families with this strength, so I am very, very pleased," said Bruce Snyder, head of distribution for Fox, the studio behind "Robots." "The holidays are coming up, kids are getting out of school, so it's positioned wonderfully."
In limited release, the Joan Allen-Kevin Costner comic drama "The Upside of Anger" opening strongly with $225,783 in nine theaters. The film, centering on a boozy mother embittered over the abrupt departure of her husband, expands to about 150 theaters this weekend.
"Millions," a British family film from director Danny Boyle ("Trainspotting," "28 Days Later") grossed $72,987 in five theaters. The movie follows two young brothers momentarily distracted from grief over their dead mother after a suitcase of cash lands in their laps. It expands gradually over the next six weeks.
Estimated ticket sales for Friday through Sunday at North American theaters, according to Exhibitor Relations Co. Inc. Final figures will be released Monday.
1. "Robots," $36.5 million.
2. "The Pacifier," $18.1 million.
3. "Be Cool," $10.3 million.
4. "Hostage," $9.8 million.
5. "Hitch," $8.7 million.
6. "Million Dollar Baby," $5.1 million.
7. "Diary of a Mad Black Woman," $5 million.
8. "Constantine," $3.7 million.
9. "Man of the House," $1.8 million.
10. "Cursed," $1.6 million.