"Kangaroo Jack" was close behind with $11.9 million. And the musical "Chicago," appearing in far fewer theaters, earned $8.5 million dollars, up from sixth place the previous weekend.
"Chicago" averaged an impressive $13,721 a theater, compared with $4,406 in 2,837 theaters for "Darkness Falls."
With $40.6 million already in the bank and solid Academy Awards prospects, "Chicago" is well poised to expand into wide release Feb. 7, days before the Oscar nominations come out.
"It's a very enviable position to be in," said Paul Dergarabedian, president of box-office tracker Exhibitor Relations. "Musicals have been out of favor for so long, but 'Chicago' is beating all the odds and performing better and better as it rolls out."
Fox's third weekend of "Just Married" followed in fourth place with $7.5 million at 2,705 theaters to pass $44 million overall. It edged Sony's second weekend of "National Security" with $7.4 million at 2,729 sites as the Martin Lawrence comedy declined by 49 percent.
Holiday holdovers took the next two spots with New Line's sixth weekend of "Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers" with $6.9 million at 2,666 theaters to lift its 40-day total to $309.1 million. "Towers" is now tied with "Star Wars: Return of the Jedi" for 12th place on the list of highest grossing movies.
George Clooney's directing debut "Confessions of a Dangerous Mind" broke into the top 10 in its first weekend of wide release after a limited debut in December to qualify for the Oscars. Starring Sam Rockwell as game-show host Chuck Barris, "Confessions" grossed $6 million and came in at No. 8.
Other awards contenders held up well as they expanded to more theaters, including "About Schmidt," which came in at No. 9 with $5.5 million, and "The Hours," which was No. 10 with $4 million.
Overall, the box office dropped sharply, compared to the same weekend last year, when "Black Hawk Down" was the No. 1 film. The top 12 movies grossed $82.9 million, down 25 percent from the same weekend in 2002.
Some of that decrease resulted from moviegoers staying home for the Super Bowl, which came a weekend later last year.
"Darkness Falls" benefited from a slow weekend in which it was the only wide-release debut. It stars Emma Caulfield of TV's "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" as a woman battling a ghost-hag that's slicing and dicing people in her town.
Horror movies typically do well in their first weekend as fans of the genre turn out in big numbers, but business tends to drop off steeply in subsequent weeks. With a tight $11 million budget, though, "Darkness Falls" will turn a solid profit, said Tom Sherak, a partner at Revolution Studios, which produced the movie for distributor Sony.
Like last year's horror hit "The Ring," Darkness Falls" may have benefitted from a PG-13 rating, giving it "more staying power" than other fright flicks with an R rating, Sherak said.
"PG-13 is a little bit broader than the hard Rs," said Sherak, whose son, William, made his debut as a producer on "Darkness Falls." "It's the kind of horror movie that people felt safe in bringing younger kids to."
The following are the numbers according to Hollywood.com
- "Darkness Falls," $12.5 million.
- "Kangaroo Jack," $11.9 million.
- "Chicago," $8.5 million.
- "Just Married," $7.5 million.
- "National Security," $7.4 million.
- "The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers," $6.9 million.
- "Catch Me If You Can," $6.6 million.
- "Confessions of a Dangerous Mind," $6 million.
- "About Schmidt," $5.5 million.
- "The Hours," $4 million.