Jodie Foster piloted "Flightplan" (search) to a No. 1 debut, her airborne thriller taking in $24.6 million to land ahead of " Tim Burton's Corpse Bride," the runner-up with $20.1 million.
The weekend's other new wide release, rapper Bow Wow's rollerskating romp "Roll Bounce," opened at No. 4 with $8 million, according to studio estimates Sunday.
With two movies topping $20 million at a traditionally quiet time in theaters, the box office surged. The top 12 movies took in $89.2 million, up 51 percent from the same weekend last year.
The upswing extended a September rally for Hollywood, which has seen revenues slump most of the year. Receipts are running 6 percent behind 2004, and with higher ticket prices, movie admissions are down 9 percent.
"This fall season has been in a word, spectacular," said Paul Dergarabedian, president of box-office tracker Exhibitor Relations. "We'd been so fixated on the box-office slump, and here we are in a fall boom. This is terrific for the industry and bodes well for a very strong holiday season."
David Cronenberg's "A History of Violence," starring Viggo Mortensen (search) as a family man whose tranquil life is shattered by intrusive mobsters ( Ed Harris and William Hurt), opened strongly in limited release with $504,000 in 14 theaters. The movie expands to about 1,200 theaters Friday.
Also debuting solidly was Roman Polanski's adaptation of Charles Dickens' "Oliver Twist," (search) featuring Ben Kingsley as pickpocket mentor Fagin, which took in $69,000 at five theaters. The film will be shown in about 800 theaters Friday.
"Flightplan" was the first No. 1 debut in almost five months for distributor Disney, historically one of Hollywood's steadiest hitmakers.
"Long time coming. You never expect that. We're usually more consistent," said Chuck Viane, Disney head of distribution.
"Flightplan" stars Foster as a widow whose 6-year-old daughter vanishes on a trans-Atlantic trip, prompting panic from the girl's mom and skepticism from the crew and passengers, who have no record or recollection the child was ever on board.
After a strong premiere for "Corpse Bride" in five theaters the previous weekend, some industry observers had expected the animated tale to hold the top box-office spot this weekend.
"Corpse Bride" features the voices of Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter in a musical fantasy about a jittery groom whisked to the underworld after he's inadvertently wed to a decomposing cadaver. It's the second stop-motion animation flick for co-director Burton, following 1993's "The Nightmare Before Christmas."
Dan Fellman, head of distribution for "Corpse Bride" backer Warner Bros., said the studio had not expected a No. 1 showing and that the movie had the best results ever for an animated film in September.
"There's always those in the industry making predictions outside our company, but we knew the strength of our movie," Fellman said, "we're nothing but thrilled."
Estimated ticket sales for Friday through Sunday at U.S. and Canadian theaters, according to Exhibitor Relations Co. Inc. Final figures will be released Monday.
1. "Flightplan," $24.6 million.
2. "Tim Burton's Corpse Bride," $20.1 million.
3. "Just Like Heaven," $9.8 million.
4. "Roll Bounce," $8 million.
5. "The Exorcism of Emily Rose," $7.5 million.
6. "Lord of War," $4.9 million.
7. "The 40-Year-Old Virgin," $4.3 million.
8. "The Constant Gardener," $2.2 million.
9. "Transporter 2," $2.15 million.
10. "Cry Wolf," $2.1 million.