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‘Invincible’ lifts underdog to box-office crown

Tale of walk-on NFL player earns $17 million; ‘Snakes’ fall to No. 6
Mark Wahlberg in Walt Disney Pictures' Invincible - 2006
Mark Wahlberg in Walt Disney Pictures' Invincible - 2006Walt Disney Pictures
/ Source: The Associated Press

Football season started early as Mark Wahlberg's "Invincible," a Walt Disney tale about a real-life walk-on who signed with the Philadelphia Eagles in the 1970s, debuted as the top weekend movie with $17 million.

The previous No. 1 flick, New Line Cinema's "Snakes on a Plane," lost altitude in its second weekend, falling to sixth-place with $6.4 million, a steep 58 percent drop, according to studio estimates Sunday.

"Snakes on a Plane" had been preceded by a whirlwind of Internet buzz that the movie failed to live up to, opening with a modest $15.2 million. Starring Samuel L. Jackson as a federal agent battling killer snakes on a redeye flight, the movie has taken in $26.5 million in 10 days.

"Invincible" stars Wahlberg as Vince Papale, a substitute teacher who made the Eagles' special-teams squad in open tryouts. The movie was the latest success among Disney's inspirational sports tales, which include the baseball flick "The Rookie" and the hockey saga "Miracle."

"They make people feel good, and they can relate to the underdog," said Chris LeRoy, general sales manager at Disney. "They are sports-related stories, but I think these movies transcend the sport and get right to characters that people relate to."

The Warner Bros. drinking comedy "Beerfest" opened in fourth-place with $6.5 million. Universal Pictures' musical drama "Idlewild," starring Andre Benjamin and Antwan A. Patton of OutKast, premiered at No. 9 with $5.9 million.

"Idlewild" scored the best per-theater numbers among new wide releases, averaging $6,064 in 973 cinemas, about one-third the locations for "Invincible," which averaged $5,838 in 2,917 theaters, and "Beerfest," which did $2,193 in 2,964 sites.

New Line's family comedy "How to Eat Fried Worms," about a boy goaded into devouring worms by the school bully, opened at No. 11 with $4.05 million, averaging $2,166 in 1,870 theaters.

Set in the 1930s but blending swing and jazz with modern rap and R&B, "Idlewild" stars Benjamin and Patton as players at a small-town speakeasy in Georgia. "Beerfest," featuring the comedy troupe Broken Lizard ("Super Troopers"), follows a team of Americans training for a secret drinking competition in Germany.

Expanding to its widest release yet, Fox Searchlight's independent hit "Little Miss Sunshine" climbed to No. 3 with $7.5 million, averaging $5,245 in 1,430 theaters. A black comedy starring Greg Kinnear, Toni Collette and Steve Carell in the tale of a family's calamitous trip to a child's beauty pageant, "Little Miss Sunshine" has taken in $23 million since opening in a handful of theaters a month ago.

Also playing strongly in narrow release is the Yari Film Group's "The Illusionist," which took in $1.8 million in 144 theaters for a $12,688 average, bringing its 10-day total to $3.2 million. Starring Edward Norton as a magician hounded by a police detective (Paul Giamatti) out to debunk him in early 1900s Vienna, "The Illusionist" expands to about 700 theaters Friday.

"Movie-goers do not live by blockbusters alone," said Paul Dergarabedian, president of box-office tracker Exhibitor Relations. "They want to see these more interesting character studies and quirky, offbeat movies. That's reflected in the grosses for both of these movies."