Steve Carell scored in his maiden voyage as a leading man, with his comedy “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” taking in $20.6 million to debut at the top of the box office.
Opening in second place was Wes Craven’s airplane thriller “Red Eye,” which raked in $16.5 million in its first weekend, according to studio estimates Sunday.
The two new movies bumped the previous weekend’s top flick, “Four Brothers,” to third place with $13 million. “Four Brothers” lifted its 10-day total to $43.6 million.
The weekend’s other wide releases tanked. Disney’s “Valiant,” an animated tale about the exploits of heroic homing pigeons during World War II, came in at No. 7 with $6.1 million.
“Supercross: The Movie,” a motorcycle-racing flick so bad the studio did not screen it in advance for critics, opened well out of the top 10 with $1.3 million.
The overall box office was down slightly, with the top 12 movies grossing $98.8 million, off 3 percent from the same weekend last year. Hollywood receipts have sagged for most of the year, running about 7 percent behind 2004’s revenues.
The return of R-rated comedies“The 40-Year-Old Virgin,” which Carell co-wrote, casts him as a middle-aged electronics-store clerk whose co-workers discover he’s never had sex and set out to find him an easy woman, only to see him begin dating a single mom (Catherine Keener) with a mutual a no-sex policy.
“Forty-year-old virgins everywhere are celebrating the No. 1 opening of their hero,” said Paul Dergarabedian, president of box-office tracker Exhibitor Relations.
Distributor Universal hopes “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” can muster the same good word of mouth that made another R-rated sex romp, “Wedding Crashers,” one of summer’s biggest successes.
“Our racy little R-rated comedies are making a hit this year,” said Nikki Rocco, head of distribution for Universal.
Critics warmly embraced “The 40-Year-Old Virgin,” a sign the movie could get talked up enough by audiences to hold up well in subsequent weekends.
“This is a movie that’s a conversation piece. People are going to be telling other people, quoting different lines and scenes,” Dergarabedian said. “That’s what’s going to sustain it in the marketplace.”
“Red Eye” stars Rachel McAdams as a woman on an overnight flight who’s forced to assist in an assassination plot by her seat mate (Cillian Murphy), a man threatening to have her father killed unless she complies.
An understated departure for horror master Craven (“A Nightmare on Elm Street,” the “Scream” movies), “Red Eye” also received high marks from critics.
“What’s most impressive to me was Wes’ successful transition from horror films to the suspense genre,” said Jim Tharp, head of distribution for DreamWorks, which released “Red Eye.”
Estimated ticket sales for Friday through Sunday at North American theaters, according to Exhibitor Relations Co. Inc. Final figures will be released Monday.