Inspector Clouseau bumbled his way to the top of the box office as Steve Martin's "The Pink Panther" debuted with $21.7 million to lead a rush of new releases.
New Line's horror sequel "Final Destination 3" ran a close second with $20.1 million, followed by Universal's animated "Curious George" at No. 3 with $15.3 million and the Warner Bros. thriller "Firewall" starring Harrison Ford in fourth with $13.8 million, according to studio estimates Sunday.
The overall box office rose slightly despite the Winter Olympics and a Northeast snowstorm, both of which kept many movie-goers at home. The top 12 movies took in $106.8 million, up 3 percent over the same weekend last year, when "Hitch" opened as the No. 1 movie with $43.2 million.
After a slump in which attendance dropped 7 percent in 2005, Hollywood is off to a better start this year. Revenues are at just over $1 billion, up 8 percent from last year's. Factoring in higher ticket prices, attendance has risen 5 percent, according to box-office tracker Exhibitor Relations.
Sony's "The Pink Panther" stars Martin in the role defined by Peter Sellers, whose French detective Clouseau was the idiot-savant hero of a string of 1960s and '70s comedy hits by Blake Edwards, who continued the franchise into the '80s and '90s after Sellers' death.
The remake drew a broad audience, with parents and their children accounting for 51 percent of the crowds and viewers evenly divided between those older and younger than 25.
"It was just all over the place, kids, parents, teenagers. We had everybody," said Rory Bruer, head of distribution for Sony, which inherited "The Pink Panther" from MGM in a Sony-led takeover last year.
The top 10 was dominated by five family-friendly films — "The Pink Panther," "Curious George," 20th Century Fox's "Big Momma's House 2," Universal's "Nanny McPhee" and the Weinstein Co. animated tale "Hoodwinked" — and three horror flicks — "Final Destination 3" and Sony's "When a Stranger Calls" and "Underworld Evolution."
"It's a battle of the genres," said Paul Dergarabedian, president of box-office tracker Exhibitor Relations. "Family films and horror films are the most consistently performing genres at the box office, and there really is a lot of choice out there for both right now."
Focus Features' "Brokeback Mountain," the favorite for best picture at the Academy Awards, remained the top-grosser among Oscar contenders, finishing at No. 8 with $4.2 million and lifting its domestic total to $66.6 million.
In limited release, the acclaimed concert film "Neil Young: Heart of Gold" opened strongly at four theaters, taking in $57,303 for a $14,326 average, compared to a $6,241 average in 3,477 cinemas for "The Pink Panther."
Directed by Jonathan Demme ("The Silence of the Lambs"), "Heart of Gold" presents Young as he premiered the songs of his latest album, the country-tinged "Prairie Wind," at Nashville's Ryman Auditorium last August. "Heart of Gold" expands to more theaters this weekend.