Audiences made a date with "Prom Night," the remake of the 1980 slasher flick, and the new version took in $22.7 million to debut as the weekend's No. 1 movie, according to studio estimates Sunday.
The movie, released by Sony's Screen Gems banner, stars Brittany Snow as a teen terrorized by a psycho killer on prom night. It overcame the critical drubbing handed to most fright films, which have a built-in audience that often turns out in big numbers on opening weekend regardless of reviews.
"Audiences today, they're so savvy in regards to what they want to see or don't want to see. Particularly a younger audience, they pretty much make up their own mind," said Rory Bruer, Sony head of distribution.
With prom season also at hand, that "brings an element of fun," Bruer said.
Opening in second place was 20th Century Fox's "Street Kings," a cop drama starring Keanu Reeves and Forest Whitaker that took in $12 million.
The new movies bumped Sony's "21," which fell to third place with $11 million after two weekends at No. 1. The Vegas blackjack tale raised its three-week total to $62.3 million.
The weekend's other new wide release, Miramax's "Smart People," opened at No. 7 with $4.2 million. "Smart People" stars Dennis Quaid, Sarah Jessica Parker, Ellen Page and Thomas Haden Church in a comic drama about a crusty English professor and his oddball family and associates.
Hollywood's box office doldrums continued, with the top 12 movies taking in $82.6 million, down 16 percent from the same weekend last year. This year's movie attendance is running 6.6 percent behind 2007's, according to box office tracker Media By Numbers.
That gap could widen when the industry's busy summer season arrives.
The superhero saga "Iron Man," starring Robert Downey Jr., is expected to put up big numbers to kick off Hollywood's summer on May 2. But it is unlikely to approach the record $151.1 million debut of "Spiderman 3" over the same weekend a year ago.
"We're counting on `Iron Man' to be the film that turns things around, but the box office was so strong a year ago that comparisons are going to be really tough," said Paul Dergarabedian, president of Media By Numbers. "I think we're going to see a lot of downtrending weekends even into summer because last year was so strong, especially in May."
Overture Films' acclaimed drama "The Visitor" opened solidly with $88,383 at just four theaters in New York City and Los Angeles. "The Visitor," which expands gradually over the next few weekends, stars Richard Jenkins as a widowed economics professor whose dreary life gets a welcome jolt when he encounters a Syrian immigrant and his Senegalese girlfriend living in his little-used New York apartment.
Also in limited release, Fox Searchlight's documentary "Young Heart" took in $52,312 at four theaters over the weekend and $63,606 since opening Wednesday. The film follows a chorus of elderly singers averaging about 80 who sing punk and pop songs by the Clash, Coldplay, the Talking Heads and other modern bands. It expands to 28 more theaters Friday.
Estimated ticket sales for Friday through Sunday at U.S. and Canadian theaters, according to Media By Numbers LLC. Final figures will be released Monday.
1. "Prom Night," $22.7 million.
2. "Street Kings," $12 million.
3. "21," $11 million.
4. "Nim's Island," $9 million.
5. "Leatherheads," $6.2 million.
6. "Dr. Seuss' Horton Hears a Who!", $6 million.
7. "Smart People," $4.2 million.
8. "The Ruins," $3.3 million.
9. "Superhero Movie," $3.1 million.
10. "Drillbit Taylor," $2.1 million.