In its debut weekend, "Apocalypto" garnered $14.2 million in box-office receipts, according Media By Numbers LLC, an Encino, Calif.-based movie tracking firm. Buena Vista Entertainment, part of Walt Disney Co. distributed the film. Mel Gibson, who made waves with his "Passion of the Christ" two years ago, wrote and directed it.
"Blood Diamond," released by Time Warner Inc.'s
Warner Bros. Pictures debuted in fifth place with $8.5 million in weekend ticket sales. The action movie, starring Leonardo DiCaprio, is one of several films coming out this season that focuses on the tragic and violent story of how diamonds -- commandeered by warring militias and smuggled to the West -- were used to finance the guerilla warfare that tore apart Sierra Leone from 1992 to 2002.
Ticket sales for Apocalypto may have been boosted by the publicity surrounding Gibson's arrest on suspicion of drunken driving this summer, said Paul Dergarabedian, president of Media By Numbers, LLC.
"Mel Gibson's public persona was so much in the news, that awareness [of the film] ratcheted up really high," said Dergarabedian.
During that arrest, Gibson made anti-Semitic remarks, for which he later apologized.
"Apocalypto," which is a fictionalized account of what might have happened in the final days of the Mayan civilization, edged out romantic comedy "The Holiday," distributed by Sony Corp.'s Sony Pictures unit and animated children's fable, "Happy Feet," distributed by Warner Bros.
"The Holiday," which also just finished its first weekend, made $13.5 million. "Happy Feet," entering weekend No. 4, booked receipts of $12.7 million.
All told, the top 12 movies' sales were 25% less than the same weekend a year-ago, when the big-screen production of C.S. Lewis' "Chronicles of Narnia" story rang up sales of over $65 million, said Media By Numbers.
The weaker year-over-year comparisons track with the initial two weeks of the holiday movie-going season, which starts after Thanksgiving. With no big epic films like "Chronicles" or the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy to draw in movie-goers, holiday sales are so far falling short of last year's, says Media By Numbers.
But the entire year is still on track to surpass last year's in attendance and ticket sales. Movie-going is 4% higher year-to-date than last year, while the industry looks like it will book more than $9 billion in sales this year, said Dergarabedian.
"We are hoping for sheer volume to make up for a lack of blockbusters," he said.