It was payback time for Quentin Tarantino and Uma Thurman at the box office as their vengeance saga "Kill Bill - Vol. 1" opened in first place with $22.7 million, according to studio estimates Sunday.
The previous weekend's No. 1 flick, "The School of Rock," slipped to second place with $15.4 million. The Coen brothers' romantic comedy "Intolerable Cruelty," starring George Clooney and Catherine Zeta-Jones, debuted at No. 3 with $13.1 million.
"Good Boy!" - a family flick featuring the voice of Matthew Broderick as a talking dog from outer space, premiered in fourth place with $13 million. The weekend's other new wide release, the horror tale "House of the Dead," opened at No. 6 with $5.5 million.
In limited release, Clint Eastwood's "Mystic River" had an exceptional debut, taking in $591,390 in 13 theaters for a whopping $45,492 average. The dark murder drama starring Sean Penn, Tim Robbins and Kevin Bacon expands to more theaters this week.
The overall box office rose, with the top 12 movies grossing $98.7 million, up 6 percent from the same weekend last year.
The opening installment of "Kill Bill," director Tarantino's first film since 1997's "Jackie Brown," did well enough to encourage distributor Miramax over prospects for "Vol. 2," due in theaters next February.
Tarantino and Miramax chose to chop "Kill Bill," a martial-arts epic with a three-hour running time, into two parts rather than dish it out to audiences in one big gulp.
Exit polls indicated 90 percent of the audience the first weekend wants to see "Kill Bill - Vol. 2," said Rick Sands, Miramax chief operating officer.
"The gamble paid off," Sands said. "We think it was a smart decision to split the movie."
"Kill Bill," whose two parts cost a total of $65 million to make, also will be released to home video and pay television in two installments, giving Miramax a double revenue stream in those markets, Sands said.
An R-rated film awash in comic carnage including bloody maimings and beheadings, "Kill Bill" stars Thurman as a former assassin out for revenge against her old employer and his team of killers for hire.
While far from a blockbuster debut, "Kill Bill" delivered solidly at the box office for a genre picture steeped in violence, said Paul Dergarabedian, president of box-office tracker Exhibitor Relations.
"'Kill Bill' is a very specialized film. It appeals to an important segment of the audience, but kind of a limited audience," Dergarabedian said. "Grandma does not want to see 'Kill Bill."'
The weekend's other wide-release debuts also had niche audiences. While "Intolerable Cruelty" had Clooney and Zeta-Jones' star power, it appealed to fans of the Coens' off-kilter sensibilities rather than a mainstream crowd.
"This was a very different picture from the normal, broad, Friday night movie," said Nikki Rocco, head of distribution for Universal, which released "Intolerable Cruelty."
MGM's "Good Boy!" grabbed the family audience, which it has largely to itself until the holiday surge of family flicks hits in early November, said Erik Lomis, the studio's head of distribution.
Estimated ticket sales for Friday through Sunday at North American theaters, according to Exhibitor Relations Co. Inc. Final figures will be released Monday.
- "Kill Bill - Vol. 1," $22.7 million.
- "The School of Rock," $15.4 million.
- "Intolerable Cruelty," $13.1 million.
- "Good Boy!", $13 million.
- "Out of Time," $8.6 million.
- "House of the Dead," $5.5 million.
- "The Rundown," $5.3 million.
- "Under the Tuscan Sun," $4.8 million.
- "Secondhand Lions," $3.3 million.
- "Lost in Translation," $2.9 million.
By David Germain