Early Halloween spirit gripped movie audiences as the fright flick "The Grudge 2" debuted at No. 1, taking in $22 million during its first weekend.
Sony's horror sequel bumped the previous weekend's top film, the Warner Bros. release "The Departed," to second place. "The Departed," a mob epic from Martin Scorsese, took in $18.7 million, lifting its 10-day total to $56.6 million, according to studio estimates Sunday.
Universal's "Man of the Year," with Robin Williams as a political comic who's elected president, opened at No. 3 with $12.55 million.
Sarah Michelle Gellar, who starred in the 2004 hit "The Grudge," returns for a cameo in the sequel, which features Amber Tamblyn as her sister, haunted by the same angry spirits introduced in the first movie.
"The Grudge 2" was not screened for critics beforehand, and those who did review it on opening day generally trashed the movie. Fright flicks tend to have a built-in audience of horror fans who show up opening weekend regardless of reviews.
"These movies are not critics' darlings. They rarely are," said Paul Dergarabedian, president of box-office tracker Exhibitor Relations. "But audiences love horror. We've said it time and again, this is maybe the most consistently performing genre in the marketplace, especially right before Halloween."
With a strong hold from its opening weekend, "The Departed" is on its way to becoming Scorsese's biggest hit. The film is expected to surpass the $102.6 million gross of his 2004 drama "The Aviator," said Dan Fellman head of distribution for Warner Bros.
Two other new movies debuted in the top 10. The 20th Century Fox action thriller "The Marine," starring pro wrestler John Cena, was No. 6 with $7 million. "One Night With the King," Gener8xion Entertainment's saga of the biblical story of Esther, came in at No. 9 with $4.3 million.
The overall box office soared, with the top 12 movies taking in $100.8 million, up 41 percent from the same weekend last year, when "The Fog" debuted at No. 1 with $11.8 million.
In narrower release, Warner Independent's Truman Capote tale "Infamous" opened weakly with $435,000 in 179 theaters. The film averaged just $2,430 a cinema, compared to an average of $6,851 in 3,211 theaters for "The Grudge 2."
The movie, starring British actor Toby Jones as Capote on his quest to write the true-crime classic "In Cold Blood," received good reviews but was lost in the wake of last year's acclaimed "Capote," which covered the same period in the author's life and earned the best-actor Academy Award for Philip Seymour Hoffman.
"Unfortunately, the audience couldn't differentiate between the two," said Steven Friedlander, head of distribution for Warner Independent. "We're hoping if this one doesn't pick up theatrically, it can find a really solid video life so people can compare the two films."
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. "The Grudge 2," $22 million.
2. "The Departed," $18.7 million.
3. "Man of the Year," $12.55 million.
4. "Open Season," $11 million.
5. "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning," $7.75 million.
6. "The Marine," $7 million.
7. "The Guardian," $5.85 million.
8. "Employee of the Month," $5.6 million.
9. "One Night With the King," $4.3 million.
10. "Jackass Number Two," $3.3 million.