Puppets were no match, apparently, for the sharks at the box office this weekend.
The animated "Shark Tale" was No. 1 for the third-straight weekend, pulling in $22.1 million, according to studio estimates Sunday. With the family audience almost entirely to itself, "Shark Tale" has climbed to a 17-day domestic total of $118.8 million.
The football flick "Friday Night Lights" came in at No. 2 for a second weekend with $13.1 million, lifting its 10-day gross to $38.7 million.
The puppet parody "Team America: World Police" debuted in third with $12.3 million. "Shall We Dance?", starring Richard Gere, Jennifer Lopez and Susan Sarandon, opened at No. 4 with $11.6 million.
It was a so-so debut for "Team America," from "South Park" creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone, who crafted a foul-mouthed, bloody action comedy using puppets to satirize everything from U.S. global military muscle to Hollywood political activism.
"Coming out, you want to tell people what you just saw because it's so unique," said Paul Dergarabedian, president of box-office tracker Exhibitor Relations. "Leading up to the election, because it is a rather political movie, if it gets some word of mouth going, it'll hang in there, no pun intended."
The movie had caught a lot of buzz for its raunchy humor, celebrity bashing and a puppet sex scene that nearly brought it an NC-17 rating, which would have restricted audiences to those 17 and older. The sex scene was toned down so the movie could come in with an R rating.
Critics generally praised "Team America" for its irreverent humor, but the movie came in on the low end of distributor Paramount's box-office expectations. The studio had projected the movie would debut in the $12 million to $15 million range.
"The heat on the picture seemed to be building as we got closer to opening, but the weekend wasn't that disappointing," said Wayne Lewellen, Paramount's head of distribution.
A remake of the Japanese hit, "Shall We Dance?" stars Gere as a discontented family man who finds renewed lust for life when he begins dance lessons and strikes up a friendship with a beautiful dance teacher (Lopez).
Distributor Miramax opened "Shall We Dance?" in a relatively narrow 1,772 theaters. The strategy paid off as the movie averaged a solid $6,559 a theater, the highest average among movies in wide release.
"Team America" debuted in 2,539 theaters and averaged $4,844.
"Shall We Dance?" played to older viewers, and women made up two-thirds of the audience.
"For a generally female date type of audience, this was a perfect movie for this past weekend," said Mike Rudnitsky, head of distribution for Miramax. "There's not much competition out there for that demographic."
A handful of limited release movies debuted poorly. Robin Williams' sci-fi tale "The Final Cut" grossed $235,000 in 117 theaters for a weak $2,009 average.
"Stephen King's Riding the Bullet," based on a short story by the horror master, took in $101,107 in 100 theaters, averaging $1,011.
The funeral comedy "Eulogy," whose ensemble cast includes Ray Romano, Zooey Deschanel, Debra Winger and Piper Laurie, did $45,000 in 22 theaters for a $2,045 average.
Estimated ticket sales for Friday through Sunday at North American theaters, according to Exhibitor Relations Co. Inc.
1. "Shark Tale," $22.1 million.
2. "Friday Night Lights," $13.1 million.
3. "Team America: World Police," $12.3 million.
4. "Shall We Dance?", $11.6 million.
5. "Ladder 49," $8.6 million.
6. "Taxi," $7.7 million.
7. "The Forgotten," $6 million.
8. "Raise Your Voice," $3 million.
9. "The Motorcycle Diaries," $1.7 million.
10. "Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow," $1.3 million.