Whether or not they're an off-screen couple, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie had enough on-screen chemistry to lift their assassin tale "Mr. and Mrs. Smith" to a robust $51 million opening weekend.
The other new wide releases, "The Honeymooners," "The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl in 3-D" and "High Tension," opened weakly, contributing to Hollywood's 16th-straight weekend of declining revenues compared to last year, according to studio estimates Sunday.
"Mr. and Mrs. Smith" debuted amid a tabloid fury about whether Pitt and Jolie were an item. Pitt and his wife, Jennifer Aniston, separated in January after 4 1/2 years of marriage. Aniston filed for divorce in March.
In the movie, Pitt and Jolie play a husband and wife who discover they are rival assassins. In real life, they have been coy about their relationship, declining to confirm or deny if they are involved.
The publicity probably helped draw in crowds, though "Mr. and Mrs. Smith" also earned fairly solid reviews.
"I think it was a mixture of movie and hype," said Paul Dergarabedian, president of box-office tracker Exhibitor Relations. "The combined interest in the movie itself and the personal lives of these two stars conspired to create a pretty strong opening weekend."
The previous weekend's top movie, "Madagascar," slipped to second place with $17.1 million, raising its total domestic gross to $128.4 million.
"Star Wars: Episode III — Revenge of the Sith" was third with $14.9 million, lifting its total to $332.1 million. At No. 4 was "The Longest Yard" with $13.5 million, pushing its sum to $118.1 million.
"Sharkboy and Lavagirl," a family action yarn from Robert Rodriguez ("Spy Kids"), had a so-so opening of $12.5 million, coming in at No. 5.
Cedric the Entertainer's "The Honeymooners," an update of Jackie Gleason's 1950s sit-com, premiered at No. 7 with just $5.8 million.
The French horror flick "High Tension" opened at No. 12 with $1.75 million.
The top 12 movies took in $138.1 million, down 10 percent from the same weekend a year ago.
"Howl's Moving Castle," the latest from Japanese animation master Hayao Miyazaki ("Spirited Away"), debuted strongly in limited release, taking in $401,000 in 36 theaters, averaging a healthy $11,139 a cinema.
Playing in 3,424 theaters, "Mr. and Mrs. Smith" averaged a strong $14,909, compared with a $4,708 average in 2,655 cinemas for "Sharkboy and Lavagirl," $3,033 in 1,912 locations for "The Honeymooners" and $1,323 in 1,323 theaters for "High Tension."
The crowds for "Mr. and Mrs. Smith" were 56 percent female and 57 percent older than 25, segments of the audience that are less inclined than younger viewers to rush out to catch a movie on opening weekend. That could bode well for the movie's longevity at the box office if fans talk it up to friends.
"We will see how much was tabloid fodder versus how it plays to audiences," said Bruce Snyder, head of distribution for 20th Century Fox, which released "Mr. and Mrs. Smith." "If it hangs in there, it's a good movie with a great-looking cast that really delivers. If it disappears, then it was a lot of hype."