The vampires of "30 Days of Night" feasted on Ben Affleck, Reese Witherspoon and Benicio Del Toro at a blood-soaked weekend box office in North America.
In what amounted to a movie massacre, high-powered dramas from the Oscar-winning stars debuted disastrously, as audiences continued to opt for escapist fare. Another problem was a glut of new releases, with five debuts in the top 10.
"30 Days of Night," a vampire thriller starring Josh Hartnett and Danny Huston, opened at No. 1 with estimated three-day sales of $16 million, distributor Columbia Pictures said Sunday. The opening for the $30 million movie met the expectations of the Sony unit.
Affleck arrived at No. 5 with his directing debut, "Gone Baby Gone," in which he cast younger brother Casey as a Boston private eye investigating a child kidnapping. The Miramax Films release sold $6 million worth of tickets.
The Walt Disney-owned studio had hoped to pass $10 million, but "we're in pretty good shape," said president Daniel Battsek. "I'm not going to pretend I'm dancing through hoops."
The movie cost less than $20 million to make, and it played in 1,713 theaters, one of the smallest counts in the top 10.
'Rendition' Goes Missing
At least it did better than "Rendition," in which Witherspoon plays a woman whose Egyptian-born husband is kidnapped and tortured by the CIA. It opened at No. 9 with $4.2 million. The film's distributor, New Line Cinema, had also hoped it would break $10 million.
The Time Warner unit had tried to convince moviegoers that the film was different from a slew of recent war-related disappointments, including "The Kingdom" and "In the Valley of Elah." Evidently to no avail. South African filmmaker Gavin Hood ("Tsotsi") directed the film, which cost about $30 million to make.
Bringing up the rear was "Things We Lost in the Fire," a domestic tragedy that has earned raves for Del Toro's portrayal of a heroin addict. The DreamWorks-Paramount release failed to ignite, opening at No. 15 with $1.6 million. Danish filmmaker Susanne Bier directed the film, which also stars Halle Berry.
Industry pundits had expected a $10 million-plus bow, but DreamWorks said $3 million to $4 million was more realistic.
The film cost about $16 million to make. It marks the second disappointment for the Viacom Inc. units after the Ben Stiller comedy "The Heartbreak Kid" three weeks ago.
The two other new entries in the top 10 were lighter fare: the Fox Atomic sports-movie spoof "The Comebacks" at No. 6 with $5.9 million, and Disney's 3-D version of director Tim Burton's "The Nightmare Before Christmas" at No. 8 with $5.1 million. Fox Atomic is a unit of News Corp.
More than 30 films have opened in the past two weekends, many of them jockeying for attention in the early days of awards season, said box office analyst Paul Dergarabedian, president of Media By Numbers.
"Some of them are the best-reviewed of the year, but it seems audiences are indifferent to them," he said.
Last weekend's leader, Lions Gate Entertainment's romantic comedy-drama "Why Did I Get Married?" slipped to No. 2 with $12.1 million. Disney's family comedy "The Game Plan," another former champ, was third with $8.1 million.