Vin Diesel’s family-friendly comedy “The Pacifier” pulled in $30.2 million on its opening weekend to rank as the nation’s top-grossing movie, turning his action-star image — and box-office expectations — upside down.
Proving he’s more than biceps and tattoos, Diesel’s performance as a Navy SEAL turned baby sitter easily outdistanced the weekend’s other major opening, “Be Cool” with John Travolta.
“Be Cool,” the sequel to the 1995 comedy “Get Shorty,” took in $23.5 million for Travolta’s largest weekend opening, according to studio estimates.
“‘‘Pacifier’ did better than anyone expected, but you can’t underestimate the family audience,” said Paul Dergarabedian, president of Exhibitor Relations Co., which tracks box-office figures. “I think people like to see a fish-out-of-water story — an action star in a very unexpected role.”
In the Disney comedy, Diesel plays a tough guy who’s brought down to size when he’s forced into the role of a father figure. The PG-rated makeover recalled another action star’s detour into comedy — Arnold Schwarzenegger in “Kindergarten Cop,” in which the actor known for the violent “Terminator” and “Conan” roles played a police officer facing a classroom of kids.
Diesel proved “the old axiom that funny is money,” said Chuck Viane, Disney’s head of distribution. Moviegoers want “to laugh and escape for a few hours.”
The film earned an average $9,653 per theater, well ahead of “Be Cool,” which averaged $7,307.
Holding the third spot was Will Smith’s romantic comedy “Hitch,” which took in $12.5 million to push its four-week total to $138 million.
“Diary of a Mad Black Woman,” the top film last weekend, dropped to fourth place. Its $12 million box office was off 45 percent from the previous week. The drama-comedy is based on a script by Tyler Perry from his play of the same name and features him as a cross-dressed, gun-toting grandmother.
Big-studio films often plunge 50 percent or more in the second weekend.
In its 12th week, “Million Dollar Baby” appeared to get a lift from its haul of Academy Awards, including best picture. The film grossed $8.5 million to secure the fifth spot at the box office, up from $7.2 million and No. 6 in last weekend’s rankings.
Miramax’s “The Aviator” dropped out of the top 10, falling to 11th with $2.3 million.
Among film’s with limited release, Warner Independent’s “The Jacket,” a time-travel story with Adrien Brody and Keira Knightley, was No. 10 with $2.7 million.
Final figures were to be released Monday.
Revenue from the top 12 movies was estimated at $111 million, down 16 percent from the same weekend last year, when Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ” banked $53 million in its second weekend.