How does a star reignite a career? Sometimes all it takes is a flaming skull, cool choppers and Eva Mendes' cleavage.
Certainly, the combination worked wonders for Nicolas Cage with his skull-, chopper- and cleavage-graced Ghost Rider
burning up the four-day holiday-weekend box office with a hot $51.5 million, according to estimates Monday from Exhibitor Relations.
The debut figured to put Cage on track for his biggest hit since 2004's National Treasure
and help ease the sting of flops such as 2005's The Weather Man
and 2006's The Wicker Man
. Ghost Rider
stars Cage as a jelly-bean-noshing, Elvis-drawling daredevil—think Evel Knievel, minus the jelly beans and the drawl—whose head turns into a flaming skull when the moon comes out at night on account of he once sort-of, accidentally sold his soul to Peter Fonda. Mendes and her cleavage costar as Cage's love interest.
Reviews were not kind. Business was.
The movie opened with $15.3 million on Friday and kept right on rolling. From Friday to Sunday alone, Ghost Rider
scored an estimated $45 million, easily the year's biggest three-day gross to date. From Friday-Monday, it helped power the box office to the biggest President's Day weekend ever, Exhibitor Relations said.
Among comic-book movies—Ghost Rider
's based on the 1973-debuting Marvel series—Cage's three-day opening ranks alongside the likes of Batman Returns
($45.7 million in 1992), and outranks the likes of Daredevil
($40.3 million in 2003), per Box Office Mojo stats. The record for all-time-biggest comic-book movie debut belongs, still, to Spider-Man
, which snared an epic $114.8 million in 2002.
As good as things got for Ghost Rider
, the flick left enough money on the table for the family fantasy Bridge to Terabithia (second place, $22.5 million Friday-Sunday; $29 million Friday-Monday) to enjoy a strong debut.