LOS ANGELES – "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" (search) thumbed its way to the top of the box office, debuting at $21.7 million to beat out the explosive "XXX" brand.
Ice Cube's action tale "XXX: State of the Union" (search) opened a weak third with $13.7 million, according to studio estimates Sunday.
"XXX" came in behind the previous weekend's top movie, "The Interpreter," (search) starring Nicole Kidman and Sean Penn, which slipped to No. 2 with $14.2 million, lifting its 10-day total to $43.6 million.
Hollywood's pre-summer slump continued, with overall revenues down for the 10th-straight weekend. The top 12 movies grossed $84.8 million, off 10 percent from the same weekend last year, when "Mean Girls" and "Man on Fire" led the box office.
Adapted from the first of the late Douglas Adams' comically philosophical books about the nature of our big, old goofy universe, "Hitchhiker's Guide" follows the adventures of an ordinary Brit who catches a ride with aliens moments before Earth is destroyed to make way for an interstellar bypass.
Adams' books have been cult favorites for decades, but the movie's mix of cheeky humor, oddball ideas and singular visuals clearly hooked a mainstream audience. Reviews were mixed, some critics calling the movie a fitful gag reel that sapped the essence of Adams' witty prose and others finding it a refreshing dose of whimsy and irreverence.
"Obviously, the thought process of the public was, 'That looks interesting. I want to see it. It's fresh and looks different,'" said Chuck Viane, head of distribution for Disney, which released "Hitchhiker's Guide."
Critics soundly trashed the new "XXX" flick, but they also disliked Vin Diesel's original, which did more than three times the business over opening weekend than the follow-up.
What went wrong?
"I wish I could say," said Rory Bruer, head of distribution for "XXX" studio Sony. "Certainly, we're disappointed, because it's a film we all believed in. We have Ice Cube, who is a big star, and I think he's one of those rare actors who really can do just about anything. So I really don't know."
Ice Cube, previously known for the R-rated "Friday" movies and the saucy "Barbershop" comedies, broadened into the family market with this year's hit "Are We There Yet?" But the absence of Diesel may have undermined the movie's appeal, while fans may not have bought into rapper Ice Cube as an action hero.
"Ice Cube doesn't seem like a sweet-hearted dad, either, but 'Are We There Yet?' did incredibly well," said Paul Dergarabedian, president of box-office tracker Exhibitor Relations. "Maybe people just associated Vin Diesel more with that role than anybody thought."
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 Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy," $21.7 million.
2. "The Interpreter," $14.2 million.
3. "XXX: State of the Union," $13.7 million.
4. "The Amityville Horror," $8.1 million.
5. "Sahara," $6 million.
6. "A Lot Like Love," $5.2 million.
7. "Kung Fu Hustle," $3.8 million.
8. "Fever Pitch," $3.75 million.
9. "Robots," $2.65 million.
10. "Guess Who," $2.2 million.