Life, which features Murphy and Lawrence as innocent men who use humor to cope with life sentences in a notorious Mississippi prison, had the third-highest opening of 1999, Exhibitor Relations Co. Inc. reported Sunday.
"The success comes from a combination of both stars," said Nikki Rocco, head of distribution for Universal, which released Life. "They play well off each other. It's just a good time, without the special effects and action of other films."
It was an impressive showing for Murphy, who seems to alternate flops and winners. The actor's Holy Man bombed last fall with a paltry total gross of $12 million, while Dr. Dolittle garnered $144.1 million during the summer.
Life had the second-highest opening of April behind The Matrix, which pulled in $18.1 million over the weekend. The futuristic Keanu Reeves thriller, about a computer hacker who discovers humans are unwitting slaves to machines, has earned $99.1 million. It also may be the first 1999 movie to top the $100 million mark.
Despite the end of spring break, young audiences also flocked in respectable numbers to the Drew Barrymore high school comedy Never Been Kissed, which had $8.7 million for third place.
But the end of spring break may have harmed other youth-oriented films such as 10 Things I Hate About You, the loose adaptation of Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew, which lost 27 percent of its audience in its third week. It was fifth with $3.7 million.
Though languishing in a post-Titanic funk for most of the year, the box office was 13 percent higher over the weekend than during the same period last year because of the popularity of the top three films.
The mob comedy Analyze This, another breakout hit of the year, collected $4 million for fourth, bringing in a total of $91.2 million in seven weeks of release.
Estimated grosses for Friday through Sunday at North American theaters, according to Exhibitor Relations Co. Inc.:
- Life, $20.7 million.
- The Matrix, $18.1 million.
- Never Been Kissed, $8.7 million.
- Analyze This, $4 million.
- 10 Things I Hate About You, $3.7 million.
- The Out-Of-Towners, $3.2 million.
- Go, $3 million.
- Forces of Nature, $2.6 million.
- Shakespeare in Love, $1.9 million.
- Cookie's Fortune, $1.8 million Two big winners at the Academy Awards continued to pad their grosses. Best picture Shakespeare in Love collected $1.9 million for ninth place and best foreign-language film Life Is Beautiful grossed $1.7 million.
Written by Anthony Breznican