"Apocalypto," a Disney release set in the Mayan civilization and told in an obscure Mayan language, opened with $14.2 million, according to studio estimates Sunday.
It was a modest haul compared to the $83.8 million opening weekend of Gibson's last movie, the 2004 religious blockbuster "The Passion of the Christ," which went on to do $370 million domestically.
But "Apocalypto" overcame the baggage of Gibson's personal troubles as well as its difficult subject matter, which features a no-name cast in a hyper-violent tale that includes beheadings and images of hearts ripped from people's chests.
"The movie obviously succeeds on its own level. I think people probably are a bit on the surprised side around town that it's No. 1," said Chuck Viane, head of distribution for Disney. "Two months ago, nobody would have bet on that."
Sony's romance "The Holiday" debuted at No. 2 with $13.5 million. Directed by Nancy Meyers, the movie stars Cameron Diaz, Kate Winslet, Jack Black and Jude Law in the story of American and British women who swap homes for the holidays and find love in the process.
The Warner Bros. thriller "Blood Diamond," starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Connelly and Djimon Hounsou, opened at No. 5 wiociated him very closely with the movie -- I think that strategy paid off."
Estimated ticket sales for Friday through Sunday at U.S. and Canadian theaters, according to Media By Numbers LLC. Final figures will be released Monday.
1. "Apocalypto," $14.2 million.
2. "The Holiday," $13.5 million.
3. "Happy Feet," $12.7 million.
4. "Casino Royale," $8.8 million.
5. "Blood Diamond," $8.5 million.
6. "Unaccompanied Minors," $6.2 million.
7. "Deja Vu," $6.1 million.
8. "The Nativity Story," $5.6 million.
9. "Deck the Halls," $3.9 million.
10. "The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause," $3.3 million.