Academy Awards heavyweights such as George Clooney and Cate Blanchett were no match for another of Tyler Perry's populist tales.
The Lionsgate release "Tyler Perry's Why Did I Get Married?", a marital yarn whose ensemble cast includes Janet Jackson, Malik Yoba, Jill Scott and writer-director Perry, debuted as the No. 1 weekend movie with $21.5 million, according to studio estimates Sunday.
Perry's flick came in well ahead of Clooney's legal drama "Michael Clayton," Blanchett's historical pageant "Elizabeth: The Golden Age," and Joaquin Phoenix and Mark Wahlberg's crime saga "We Own the Night," which all pulled in modest crowds.
"The Game Plan," which had been No. 1 the previous two weekends, was neck-and-neck with "Michael Clayton" and "We Own the Night" for second-place. Exact rankings awaited final studio numbers Monday.
Disney reported an $11.5 million haul for "The Game Plan," Warner Bros. reported $11.01 million for "Michael Clayton" and Sony reported $11 million for "We Own the Night."
Universal's "The Golden Age," a followup to 1998's "Elizabeth," was No. 6 with $6.2 million.
Despite the rush of movies featuring top stars, overall business continued to slide. Revenues were down for the fourth-straight weekend, with the top-12 films taking in $85.5 million, off 14 percent from the same weekend last year, when "The Grudge 2" and "The Departed" led the box office.
Though "Tyler Perry's Daddy's Little Girls" had a so-so opening earlier this year, "Why Did I Get Married?" joined his previous hits "Madea's Family Reunion" and "Diary of a Mad Black Woman," which also opened at No. 1.
"Why Did I Get Married?" follows the domestic trials of couples re-evaluating their relationships during an annual reunion.
"Tyler Perry is a mogul," said Paul Dergarabedian, president of box-office tracker Media By Numbers. "There is a built-in audience base for Tyler Perry's movies, no matter what time of year, no matter what the subject matter."
"Michael Clayton," which went into nationwide release after opening in a handful of theaters a week earlier, stars Clooney as an attorney in moral crisis over a class-action lawsuit.
"We Own the Night" features Phoenix and Wahlberg in the story of a black-sheep brother who makes amends with his family of cops to take on Russian drug dealers.
In "The Golden Age," Blanchett reprises her role as Britain's Queen Elizabeth I as she faces a holy war with Spain.
The studios are counting on Oscar buzz for Blanchett and Clooney to keep "The Golden Age" and "Michael Clayton."
"We think we really have a solid Oscar contender here, and we're in for the long run," said Dan Fellman, Warner's head of distribution.
Such films tend to have more staying power, since they appeal to older moviegoers who do not necessarily rush out to see films over opening weekend.
"This is a very specific kind of film that isn't going to launch in the marketplace the same as some of the other broad-based movies do," said Nikki Rocco, head of distribution for Universal. "This is a very discerning audience. There are a lot of films vying for that same adult audience, so we were pleased to get it launched."
In limited release, the oddball romance "Lars and the Real Girl," starring Ryan Gosling, took in a healthy $85,000 in seven theaters; "Sleuth," with Michael Caine and Jude Law in an update of Caine and Laurence Olivier's 1972 battle of wits, opened with $50,090 in nine theaters; and "Control" — a drama about Joy Division singer Ian Curtis, who killed himself at age 23, debuted strongly with $26,500 in one theater.
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. "Tyler Perry's Why Did I Get Married?", $21.5 million.
2. "The Game Plan," $11.5 million.
3. "Michael Clayton," $11.01 million.
4. "We Own the Night," $11 million.
5. "The Heartbreak Kid," $7.4 million.
6. "Elizabeth: The Golden Age," $6.2 million.
7. "The Kingdom," $4.6 million.
8. "Across the Universe," $4 million.
9. "Resident Evil: Extinction," $2.65 million.
10. "The Seeker: The Dark Is Rising," $2.15 million.