Nicole Kidman and Sean Penn’s “The Interpreter” translated into solid box-office as the United Nations thriller debuted with $22.8 million to top the weekend for Hollywood.
The weekend’s other main debut, Ashton Kutcher and Amanda Peet’s romantic comedy “A Lot Like Love,” had a so-so opening of $7.7 million, coming in at No. 4, according to studio estimates Sunday.
Expanding nationwide after two weeks in limited release, Stephen Chow’s action comedy “Kung Fu Hustle” was No. 5 with $7.3 million, lifting its total domestic gross to just over $8 million.
Anthony Anderson’s kidnapping comedy “King’s Ransom,” so bad it was not screened beforehand for critics, finished in 10th place with just $2.4 million.
In limited release, the documentary “Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room” opened strongly with $70,000 at three theaters. The film offers an inside portrait of the corporate scandal at the energy company.
Overall business was down for the ninth-straight week, with the top 12 movies taking in $83.4 million, off a fraction from the same weekend last year.
“The Interpreter,” directed by Sydney Pollack, stars Kidman as a U.N. translator at the center of an assassination plot after she overhears a death threat against an African dictator. Penn co-stars as a federal agent.
Reviews generally were positive, with critics calling “The Interpreter” an unusually brainy thriller.
“I think audiences were anxious for any good, solid story,” said Nikki Rocco, head of distribution for Universal, which released “The Interpreter.”
“The Interpreter” was a rare triumph for older audiences, with the over-35 crowd making up 60 percent of the film’s viewers. The under-25 audience that drives most of the box office was divided among several movies, including “The Amityville Horror and “A Lot Like Love.”
“You look at the demographic and go, how can ’The Interpreter’ be No. 1? But if you put the right movie in the marketplace, the older audience will go,” said Paul Dergarabedian, president of box-office tracker Exhibitor Relations.
“A Lot Like Love,” which received mixed reviews, fell short of distributor Disney’s hopes that it would hit $10 million over opening weekend. Considering Kutcher’s solid box-office history, including the current hit “Guess Who,” the performance of “A Lot Like Love” was another sign of audience disinterest in what Hollywood has had to offer the last two months.
The slump has left the industry limping into its busy summer season, with such big titles as “Star Wars: Episode III — Revenge of the Sith,” “Kingdom of Heaven” and “The Longest Yard” due out in May.
“There hasn’t been that breakout picture the public’s jumping to see yet, but it’ll happen. It’s just around the corner,” said Chuck Viane, Disney head of distribution.
Estimated ticket sales for Friday through Sunday at North American theaters, according to Exhibitor Relations Co. Inc. Final figures will be released Monday.