Young men flocked to "Jackass: The Movie," the big-screen version of the MTV show whose stars specialized in bizarre and risky behavior. It debuted at $22.7 million.
Generally panned by critics, it was the dumbest of three movies that opened this weekend.
The new fright flick "Ghost Ship" sailed into third place with $11.7 million. The movie stars Julianna Margulies and Gabriel Byrne as leaders of a salvage crew that finds a haunted ocean liner.
Debuting in much narrower release was Mark Wahlberg and Thandie Newton's "The Truth About Charlie," a remake of the Cary Grant-Audrey Hepburn crime caper "Charade." Directed by Jonathan Demme, "The Truth About Charlie" opened out of the top 10 with $2.3 million.
"The Truth About Charlie" played in 752 theaters, averaging $3,105 a cinema. "Jackass" averaged $9,047 in 2,509 theaters and "Ghost Ship" did $4,203 in 2,787 theaters.
The overall box office rose for the seventh straight weekend. The top 12 movies grossed $88 million, up 21 percent from same weekend last year.
Produced for just $5 million, "Jackass" features Johnny Knoxville, Steve-O and others from the now-defunct MTV show doing such hazardous or crude acts as roller-skating with bottle rockets attached or urinating on a snow cone.
"People love to watch a train wreck. They can't take their eyes off any horrible thing where you can sit on the sidelines and watch without actually putting yourself in jeopardy," said Paul Dergarabedian, president of box-office tracker Exhibitor Relations.
The R-rated movie carried warnings urging viewers not to try the stunts themselves, and Paramount offered to provide guards at theaters that wanted extra security to keep those younger than 17 from sneaking in, said Wayne Lewellen, the studio's head of distribution.
Executives at Paramount and its MTV subsidiary had expected "Jackass" might gross $20 million at best.
"We didn't expect to exceed $20 million for a film called `Jackass.' Especially a film with no plot, no Oscar-caliber performances and no real writing," said Van Toffler, MTV president. "What they do in the movie sort of feels to me like what the Three Stooges would be doing if they were alive. Kind of slapstick twisted on its head in an extreme form."
Paramount, MTV and CBSNews.com are owned by Viacom, Inc.
Last weekend's winner, Naomi Watts' horror film "The Ring," chimed in at No. 2 but actually raised its gross by adding about 650 more theaters. The movie took in $18.8 million, up $3.8 million from opening weekend, pushing its 10-day total to $39.7 million, according to studio estimates Sunday.
Adam Sandler and Emily Watson's quirky romance "Punch-Drunk Love" broke into the top 10 after two weekends in limited release. The film expanded to 481 theaters, up about 400 from last weekend, and came in at No. 7 with $3.5 million.
Debuting strongly in limited release was "Frida," starring Salma Hayek and Alfred Molina as Mexican painter Frida Kahlo and her husband, Diego Rivera. The film, directed by Julie Taymor (Broadway's "The Lion King"), took in $200,000 at five theaters.
Also opening well was "Rodger Dodger," starring Campbell Scott as an odious womanizer, which grossed $52,000 at four theaters.
The top ten movies for the weekend, according to Hollywood.com are:
"Jackass: The Movie," $22.7 million.
"The Ring," $18.8 million.
"Ghost Ship," $11.72 million.
"Sweet Home Alabama," $6.4 million.
"My Big Fat Greek Wedding," $6.32 million.
"Red Dragon," $4.72 million.
"Punch-Drunk Love," $3.5 million.
"Jonah: A VeggieTales Movie," $2.9 million.
"The Transporter," $2.85 million.
"Brown Sugar," $2.78 million.