LOS ANGELES – "The Amityville Horror" (search) returned from the dead with a vengeance, with the gory update of the 1970s fright flick taking in $23.3 million to top the weekend box office.
The previous weekend's No. 1 movie, the African desert adventure "Sahara," (search) slipped to second place with $13.1 million, lifting its 10-day total to $36.4 million, according to studio estimates Sunday.
"The Amityville Horror" stars Ryan Reynolds (search) and Melissa George as a couple tormented by visions and voices in their new home, the scene of a grisly mass murder a year earlier.
The movie is the latest in a parade of successful horror remakes. With a built-in audience looking for scares and a string of hits such as "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre," "The Grudge" and "Dawn of the Dead," horror movies have become almost a sure-thing in Hollywood.
Horror movies also typically cost far less than other big studio films, whose average budgets top $60 million. "The Amityville Horror" grossed more than its $19 million budget in just the first weekend.
"The Amityville Horror" received mostly bad reviews, yet the under-25 crowd that makes up the genre's core audience rarely heeds the critics.
"The only reviews that count are the public's reviews," said Erik Lomis, head of distribution for MGM, which released "The Amityville Horror."
In limited release, David Duchovny's directing debut, "House of D," opened strongly with $30,000 in two theaters. The coming-of-age tale features Duchovny, wife Tea Leoni, Robin Williams and Erykah Badu.
Todd Solondz's "Palindromes," featuring Jennifer Jason Leigh and seven others playing the same character in a series of vignettes, debuted well with $61,434 in seven theaters.
With overall revenues down for the eighth-straight weekend, Hollywood is limping into its busy summer season. The top 12 movies took in $73.9 million, off 13 percent from the same weekend last year.
"This is a major slump," said Paul Dergarabedian, president of box-office tracker Exhibitor Relations. "I think the industry is holding its collective breath for the turnaround. What is going to be the movie that reverses this down trend? Thankfully, summer looks really good."
Sydney Pollack's United Nations thriller "The Interpreter," starring Nicole Kidman and Sean Penn, and the Ashton Kutcher-Amanda Peet romantic comedy "A Lot Like Love," open Friday as summer lead-ins.
Next week brings the action follow-up "XXX: State of the Union," starring Ice Cube, and the science-fiction romp "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy."
May could get Hollywood back on track, with "Star Wars: Episode III — Revenge of the Sith" as the industry's centerpiece for early summer.
Other big May releases include Adam Sandler's football tale "The Longest Yard," Will Ferrell's soccer comedy "Kicking & Screaming," Ridley Scott's Crusades epic "Kingdom of Heaven," the animated adventure "Madagascar," the horror remake "House of Wax" and Jennifer Lopez and Jane Fonda's comedy "Monster-in-Law."
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 Amityville Horror," $23.3 million.
2. "Sahara," $13.1 million.
3. "Fever Pitch," $8.8 million.
4. "Sin City," $6.7 million.
5. "Guess Who," $4.9 million.
6. "Beauty Shop," $3.8 million.
7. "Robots," $3.55 million.
8. "Miss Congeniality 2: Armed and Fabulous," $2.9 million.
9. "The Pacifier," $2.4 million.
10. "The Upside of Anger," $1.9 million.