"The School of Rock," with Jack Black playing a rocker posing as a substitute teacher to coach fifth graders for a battle-of-the-bands contest, earned top grades from audiences with a $20.2 million debut, according to studio estimates Sunday.
"Out of Time," starring Denzel Washington as a police chief scrambling to prove his innocence in a double murder, opened in second place with $17 million.
The Rock's action comedy "The Rundown," the previous weekend's top flick, slipped to third place with $9.8 million, lifting its 10-day total to $32.7 million.
Black, a relative newcomer to lead roles, edged established star Washington, even though "School of Rock" opened in fewer theaters.
Playing in 2,614 theaters, "School of Rock" averaged $7,728 a cinema, compared to a $5,527 average in 3,076 theaters for "Out of Time."
"I think it has more to do with the subject matter than the stars," said Paul Dergarabedian, president of box-office tracker Exhibitor Relations. "`School of Rock' has a younger, school-age appeal. Black's like a big kid, like an Adam Sandler-type persona. Irreverent, funny, bucks the establishment. That brings in younger audiences."
"School of Rock" played well across the board, with audiences split almost evenly between men and women and those older and younger than 25, while drawing strongly on family crowds, as well, said Wayne Lewellen, head of distribution for Paramount, which released the movie.
"Out of Time" played more to movie-goers 30 and up, with women accounting for 55 percent of the audience because of Washington's sex appeal, said Erik Lomis, head of distribution for MGM, which released the film.
Sofia Coppola's art-house hit "Lost in Translation," starring Bill Murray and Scarlett Johannson, expanded to many small cities and took in a solid $4.3 million, coming in at No. 7. The film, which had been playing mainly larger cities and college towns, has grossed $14.2 million since debuting in mid-September.
Two films debuted strongly in limited release. "The Station Agent," which won the audience award at last winter's Sundance Film Festival, took in $55,500 in just three theaters, for an impressive $18,500 theater average.
The film stars Peter Dinklage, Patricia Clarkson and Bobby Cannavale in a comic drama of friendship between three lonely souls, a train-obsessed dwarf, a grief-stricken artist and a garrulous snack peddler.
"Wonderland," starring Val Kilmer in the real-life story of an ex-porn star connected to a grisly 1981 quadruple homicide, grossed $90,000 in five theaters for an $18,000 average.
The overall box office box office declined, with the top 12 movies grossing $82.2 million, down 19 percent from the same weekend last year, when "Red Dragon" had a $36.5 million debut.
Estimated ticket sales for Friday through Sunday at North American theaters, according to Exhibitor Relations Co. Inc.
- "The School of Rock," $20.2 million.
- "Out of Time," $17 million.
- "The Rundown," $9.8 million.
- "Under the Tuscan Sun," $7.9 million.
- "Secondhand Lions," $5.4 million.
- "Underworld," $4.8 million.
- "Lost in Translation," $4.3 million.
- "The Fighting Temptations," $3.3 million.
- "Once Upon a Time in Mexico," $2.55 million.
- "Cold Creek Manor," $2.5 million.
By David Germain