LOS ANGELES – Payback for the Sith has meant a real payday at the box office.
"Star Wars: Episode III — Revenge of the Sith" (search) beat two strong newcomers to remain the top movie with $70.75 million over the long Memorial Day weekend, though Hollywood again failed to climb out of a prolonged revenue decline.
Debuting in second place was the animated adventure "Madagascar" (search) with $61 million, while Adam Sandler's football remake, "The Longest Yard," (search) opened a close third with $60 million, according to studio estimates Monday.
Despite the two big debuts and a strong hold for "Revenge of the Sith" in its second weekend, theatrical receipts overall were down for the 14th straight weekend compared with last year.
The top 12 movies grossed $225.5 million, an impressive four-day haul but still 5.5 percent behind last year's record Memorial Day weekend, when "Shrek 2" and "The Day After Tomorrow" alone combined for $181 million in grosses between them.
"On the one hand, yeah, 14 weeks, that's a terrible slump," said Paul Dergarabedian, president of box-office tracker Exhibitor Relations. "But I'm optimistic, because this weekend proves you can still get a heck of a lot of people in theaters with the right movies.
"It takes a lot more to excite people today, and the crop of movies this year other than `Star Wars' and the movies that opened this weekend haven't inspired audiences to make that step and go to the theaters."
The final installment of George Lucas' "Star Wars" saga grossed $271.2 million domestically in its first 12 days, putting it on pace to soar beyond the $310 million total for its predecessor, "Star Wars: Episode II — Attack of the Clones."
"Revenge of the Sith" may be on track to approach the $431 million domestic haul of "Star Wars: Episode I — The Phantom Menace," said Bruce Snyder, head of distribution for 20th Century Fox, which released the "Star Wars" films.
As with "Titanic," the modern box-office champ that brought young girls back to the theater to see it again and again, "Revenge of the Sith" is drawing strong repeat business among young males.
"We've got a lot of kids who already have this picture four and five times," Snyder said.
Worldwide through Sunday, "Revenge of the Sith" had taken in $504.4 million since its almost simultaneous debut in most countries beginning May 18.
"Madagascar," featuring the voices of Ben Stiller, Chris Rock, Jada Pinkett Smith and David Schwimmer as pampered zoo animals cut loose in the wild, plugged a hole among parents eager for a movie to take the kids to see.
"There was a pent-up desire for family pictures," said Jim Tharp, head of distribution for DreamWorks, which released "Madagascar."
"The Longest Yard," an update of the 1974 tale of prison inmates taking on their sadistic guards in a football grudge match, was a key choice for young males, who make up the bulk of Sandler's audience.
Estimated ticket sales for Friday through Monday at North American theaters, according to Exhibitor Relations Co. Inc. Final figures will be released Tuesday.
1. "Star Wars: Episode III — Revenge of the Sith," $70.75 million.
2. "Madagascar," $61 million.
3. "The Longest Yard," $60 million.
4. "Monster-in-Law," $11.1 million.
5. "Kicking & Screaming," $6.6 million.
6. "Crash," $6 million.
7. "The Interpreter," $2.6 million.
8. "Unleashed," $2.3 million.
9. "Kingdom of Heaven," $2.2 million.
10. "House of Wax," $1.6 million.