The epic battle tale "Kingdom of Heaven" (search) fought its way to the top of the box office, taking in $20 million in its debut weekend.
The film by "Gladiator" director Ridley Scott (search) features heartthrob Orlando Bloom as a warrior in Jerusalem between the Second and Third Crusades. The R-rated movie was followed in the rankings by another new R-rated movie, "House of Wax," which brought in $12.2 million, according to studio estimates Sunday.
"The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" (search) dropped to third place with nearly $9.13 million after debuting last weekend at the top spot.
"We should do well as we continue down the road with 'House of Wax,'" said Dan Fellman, head of distribution at Warner Bros. "Joel Silver and his franchise bring these movies in at a modest budget and they continue to be profitable for the studio."
The other notable new movie this weekend was "Crash," which features Don Cheadle, Sandra Bullock, Matt Dillon and rapper Chris "Ludacris" Bridges in intertwining stories examining racial stereotypes in Los Angeles. The R-rated film played in 1,864 theaters and finished fourth with $9.1 million.
Hollywood's box office slump continued with revenues down for the 11th straight weekend compared to the same weekend last year, said Paul Dergarabedian, president of box-office tracker Exhibitor Relations.
The top 12 movies grossed $76.9 million, down 24 percent from last year at this time, when "Van Helsing" and "Mean Girls" were the top movies.
"It was quite an underwhelming week," Dergarabedian said. "This is theoretically the first weekend of the summer and it doesn't feel like one."
Though "King of Heaven" pulled in $20 million, it paled in comparison to other recent blockbusters that opened during the first weekend of May, Dergarabedian said. "Van Helsing" last year opened with a three-day haul of $51.7 million, while "X2: X-Men United" opened in 2003 with $85.6 million. In 2002, "Spider-Man" debuted the same weekend and collected a whopping $114.8 million.
"Kingdom of Heaven" features Bloom as blacksmith-turned-warrior Balian who joins his knightly father in Jerusalem. The film also features Liam Neeson as Balian's father, the knight Godfrey of Ibelin, as well as Jeremy Irons and Brendan Gleeson.
The film played in wide release at 3,216 theaters and averaged $6,219 per cinema, said Bruce Snyder, president of domestic distribution at Twentieth Century Fox. "Kingdom of Heaven" also opened in nearly 100 international markets and earned an additional $56 million, Snyder said.
"We were number one in nearly every market," Snyder said. "It's a great start and we're very pleased."
Box office watchers anticipate that Hollywood's slide will end May 19 when the final installment in the "Star Wars" prequel trilogy debuts.
"That will be the one that turns the tide and gets us in the right direction," Dergarabedian said. "Believe me, when 'Star Wars' comes out, people will drop everything and come to the theater."
Estimated ticket sales for Friday through Sunday at North American theaters, according to Exhibitor Relations Co. Inc. Final figures will be released Monday.
1. "Kingdom of Heaven," $20 million.
2. "House of Wax," $12.2 million.
3. "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy," $9.1 million.
4. "Crash," $9.1 million.
5. "The Interpreter," $7.5 million.
6: "XXX: State of the Union," $5.4 million.
7. "The Amityville Horror," $3.2 million.
8. "Sahara," $3.1 million.
9. "A Lot Like Love," $3 million.
10. "Fever Pitch," $2 million.