LOS ANGELES – The horror tale "30 Days of Night" had three days of box-office bite.
The Sony fright flick, with Josh Hartnett leading Alaskans against ravenous vampires that turn up for the prolonged winter darkness, debuted as the weekend's No. 1 movie with $16 million, according to studio estimates Sunday.
Audiences continued to choose merriment over misery as the latest crop of sober Academy Awards hopefuls, among them Ben Affleck's "Gone Baby Gone," Reese Witherspoon and Jake Gyllenhaal's "Rendition" and Halle Berry and Benicio Del Toro's "Things We Lost in the Fire," debuted with so-so to dismal numbers.
Whether it's the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, deadly news out of Pakistan and Myanmar or Friday's stock market tumble, moviegoers seem disinterested in more bad news at theaters with films about child-kidnapping, torture, widowhood and heroin addiction.
"Fall is the season of the serious movie, and it seems like audiences in a way are resisting the serious movie right now," said Paul Dergarabedian, president of box-office tracker Media By Numbers. "Audiences are finding their horror or their intensity in real life, and they're not looking for it in the movies."
Other escapist fare joined "30 Days of Night" at the top of the box-office chart. "Tyler Perry's Why Did I Get Married?", the Lionsgate release that was the previous weekend's No. 1 flick, slipped to second place with $12.1 million, raising its total to $38.9 million.
Disney's family comedy "The Game Plan" held up well at No. 3 with $8.1 million, lifting its four-week total to $69.2 million.
Affleck made his directing debut with Miramax's "Gone Baby Gone," which debuted at No. 5 with $6 million. The critically acclaimed movie stars the filmmaker's brother, Casey Affleck, as a private detective trying to solve a young girl's abduction.
Coming in on par with "Gone Baby Gone" was Fox Atomic's "The Comebacks," a lowbrow spoof of sports movies that opened at No. 6 with $5.85 million.
New Line's "Rendition," starring Witherspoon and Gyllenhaal in the story of an Egyptian-born man detained and tortured under suspicion of terrorism, premiered at No. 9 with $4.2 million.
The DreamWorks-Paramount release "Things We Lost in the Fire," with Berry as a widow who takes in her husband's drug-addicted best friend (Del Toro), opened far outside the top-10 with $1.6 million.
Further proof that movie fans want fun over adversity: a 3-D version of Disney's Halloween perennial "Tim Burton's the Nightmare Before Christmas" was No. 8 with $5.1 million and had a better rate of return per-theater than any of the new wide releases.
Playing in 564 cinemas, "Nightmare Before Christmas" averaged $9,122, compared to $5,604 in 2,855 locations for "30 Days of Night;" $3,503 in 1,713 sites for "Gone Baby Gone;" $1,856 in 2,250 theaters for "Rendition" and $1,405 in 1,142 cinemas for "Things We Lost in the Fire."
"There's just so much serious fare. We have overloaded the marketplace with this highbrow, serious product," said Chris Aronson, senior vice president of distribution for 20th Century Fox. "The audience is saying, `Give me something to have some fun with."'
While fun movies ruled, the overall box office skidded for the fifth-straight weekend. The top-12 movies took in $79.7 million, down 10 percent from the same weekend last year.
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. "30 Days of Night," $16 million.
2. "Tyler Perry's Why Did I Get Married?", $12.1 million.
3. "The Game Plan," $8.1 million.
4. "Michael Clayton," $7.1 million.
5. "Gone Baby Gone," $6 million.
6. "The Comebacks," $5.85 million.
7. "We Own the Night," $5.5 million.
8. "Tim Burton's the Nightmare Before Christmas," $5.1 million.
9. "Rendition," $4.2 million.
10. "The Heartbreak Kid," $3.9 million.