Nicolas Cage followed his secret treasure map to another fortune at movie theaters.
Cage's "National Treasure: Book of Secrets," the Disney sequel to its 2004 hit, opened as the weekend's No. 1 movie with $45.5 million as Hollywood continued a holiday spree at the box office, according to studio estimates Sunday.
With Cage reprising his role as a history buff on the hunt for a vanished fortune, the "National Treasure" sequel outdid the original, which debuted with $35.1 million on its way to a $173 million total.
The previous weekend's top flick, Will Smith's "I Am Legend," slipped to second place with $34.2 million, the Warner Bros. hit raising its 10-day total to $137.5 million.
The two action films led a crowded market filled with new releases, among them Universal's foreign-policy satire "Charlie Wilson's War," starring Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts and Philip Seymour Hoffman.
Directed by Mike Nichols, "Charlie Wilson's War" debuted at No. 4 with $9.6 million. The absurdist romp follows an unlikely trio — a congressman, a socialite and a scruffy CIA man — who shaped the United States' covert response to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.
Playing in just 1,249 theaters, about half as many as "Charlie Wilson's War," the DreamWorks-Paramount musical "Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street" did almost as much business, coming in at No. 5 with $9.35 million.
Warner Bros. produced a dud in "P.S. I Love You," which had a so-so No. 6 opening with $6.5 million. The movie stars Hilary Swank as a widow whose husband arranged to send letters after his death to inspire her to go on living.
The latest from the Judd Apatow comedy machine, Sony's "Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story," was a surprise bomb, taking in just $4.1 million despite good reviews praising its no-holds-barred humor and John C. Reilly's giddy performance.
Produced and co-written by Apatow ("Knocked Up"), the spoof of music biopics stars Reilly as a country rocker who shoots to stardom and lives the ultimate artist's life of excess and self-indulgence.
With five new wide releases this weekend and two more opening Christmas Day — the action-horror sequel "Alien vs. Predator: Requiem" and the family flick "The Water Horse: Legend of the Deep" — Hollywood is banking on the holiday week to provide a big finish for 2007.
After a sluggish fall, Hollywood business soared for the second-straight weekend. The top 12 movies took in $153.5 million, up 41 percent from the same weekend last year, according to box-office tracker Media By Numbers.
"The variety of films is really bringing out the audience," said Paul Dergarabedian, president of Media By Numbers. "People are looking for all different types of movies, and everything is represented here."
Along with its domestic haul, the "National Treasure" sequel pulled in $22.3 million overseas, mostly in Asia.
The movie does not open in Europe until February, but with London and Paris locations, it should take in more overseas than the $173 million the first installment did, said Mark Zoradi, president of Disney's motion-picture group.
The movie follows Cage's character as he races to clear the name of an ancestor implicated in Abraham Lincoln's assassination, a trail that leads to a legendary city of gold.
Four-fifths of viewers for "Charlie Wilson's War" were 30 and older, an audience that does not necessarily rush out to catch films in the first few days. Universal is counting on the film's good reviews and word-of-mouth to gradually build the audience.
"Everyone knew going in this was a genre that doesn't pop big numbers on opening weekend," said Universal marketing and distribution executive Adam Fogelson. "We wanted to be the sophisticated commercial option for grown-ups."
Estimated ticket sales for Friday through Sunday at U.S. and Canadian theaters, according to Media By Numbers LLC. Final figures will be released Wednesday.
1. "National Treasure: Book of Secrets," $45.5 million.
2. "I Am Legend," $34.2 million.
3. "Alvin and the Chipmunks," $29 million.
4. "Charlie Wilson's War," $9.6 million.
5. "Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street," $9.35 million.
6. "P.S. I Love You," $6.5 million.
7. "Enchanted," $4.15 million.
8. "Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story," $4.1 million.
9. "The Golden Compass," $4 million.
10. "Juno," $3.4 million.