LOS ANGELES – Nicolas Cage's (search) treasure hunt soaked up a bit more box-office cash than a cartoon sponge.
Cage's "National Treasure" debuted as the No. 1 weekend movie with $35.3 million, coming in just ahead of "The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie," which opened in second with $33.5 million, according to studio estimates Sunday.
After two weekends in the No. 1 spot, the animated superhero tale "The Incredibles" slipped to third with $26.8 million, lifting its total to $177.8 million.
Tom Hanks' (search) Christmas adventure "The Polar Express" came in fourth with $15.2 million in its second weekend. Costing $170 million to make, the movie has had a cool reception from audiences, taking in $51 million in 10 days.
After a healthy $8.7 million debut in narrower release of 530 theaters a week earlier, Renee Zellweger's (search) "Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason" had a so-so expansion, taking in $10.1 million in 2,450 cinemas. A sequel to the 2001 romantic comedy hit, the movie came in at No. 5.
Hollywood had a second straight weekend of rising revenues after a slump that lasted most of autumn. The top 12 movies grossed $144.8 million, up 15 percent from the same weekend last year.
The strong revenues provide a good springboard into Thanksgiving, one of Hollywood's busiest weekends. The crowd of family films — including Tim Allen's "Christmas With the Kranks," opening Wednesday — should prove a powerful draw over the long weekend, said Paul Dergarabedian, president of box-office tracker Exhibitor Relations.
"With this many family films, it's going to be a bloodbath," Dergarabedian said. "`The Incredibles' is going to be a huge factor, `Spongy' is going to be a huge factor. Even `Polar Express,' which people were trashing on, will be a factor because it's a holiday movie."
"National Treasure," Cage's fourth collaboration with producer Jerry Bruckheimer, centers on a plot to steal the Declaration of Independence to obtain the hidden clues to a colossal fortune stashed by the Founding Fathers.
Unlike Bruckheimer action flicks aimed at the adult-male crowd, "National Treasure" had a softer PG rating that opened it to family audiences. The movie drew solidly among all age groups and scored well among women, too, said Chuck Viane, head of distribution for Disney, which released "National Treasure."
"Jerry's core audience goes in looking for a great piece of action, and it delivered on that," Viane said. But the PG rating "expands the size of your audience so you get a much bigger spread of folks coming in."
"The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie" is the first big-screen adventure for the Nickelodeon TV cartoon bottom-dweller, a cheery sponge who lives among his aquatic pals. The movie was generally well-received by critics, who called it a cheery breath of fresh air and good humor.
A big part of SpongeBob's appeal is that he is eternally optimistic, presenting a good role model for children, said Wayne Lewellen, head of distribution for Paramount, which released the movie.
"The character always seems to be happy and accepts everything in good nature, whatever it is," Lewellen said.
In limited release, Pedro Almodovar's "Bad Education" had a terrific opening, grossing $147,366 in three theaters. The movie's convoluted plot centers on the relationship of two boys whose budding romance is destroyed by a jealous priest.
Estimated ticket sales for Friday through Sunday at North American theaters, according to Exhibitor Relations Co. Inc. Final figures will be released Monday.
1. "National Treasure," $35.3 million.
2. "The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie," $33.5 million.
3. "The Incredibles," $26.8 million.
4. "The Polar Express," $15.2 million.
5. "Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason," $10.1 million.
6. "After the Sunset," $5.3 million.
7. "Ray, $4.6 million.
8. "The Grudge," $3.8 million.
9. "Seed of Chucky," $3.1 million.
10. "Saw," $3 million.