Denzel Washington, who sets out to rescue a little girl in “Man on Fire,” pushed aside another little girl in the comedy “13 Going on 30” to claim the top spot at the weekend box office.
The violent revenge thriller “Man on Fire” debuted with $23 million, while Jennifer Garner’s lighthearted child-in-an-adult-body movie “13 Going on 30” came in at No. 2 with $22 million, according to studio estimates Sunday.
The difference is close enough that the films could switch places when final figures are released Monday.
‘This is a harder-edged Denzel’
This marks Washington’s strongest opening since his Oscar-winning role in “Training Day,” which opened in October 2001 with $22.5 million. He has lately had a lukewarm spell with the drama “Antwone Fisher” and the thriller “Out of Time.”
In “Man on Fire,” Washington stars as a security guard who goes on a vicious spree to save 10-year-old Dakota Fanning from kidnappers. It’s the latest in a line of successful vengeance films to score well with moviegoers, following last week’s No. 1 debut for “Kill Bill — Vol. 2” and successful runs for “The Punisher” and “Walking Tall.”
The audience for “Man on Fire” was about 55 percent female, said Bruce Snyder, the head of distribution for 20th Century Fox, which is unusual for an action-adventure movie.
‘Stepping stone’ for Garner
Garner, despite her fame from the “Alias” TV spy show, remains a relatively untested commodity among movie audiences, but her film’s close second-place finish points to a star on the rise.
“This is a stepping stone to stardom,” said Tom Sherak, a partner in Revolution Studios, which produced the movie for distributor Sony. “The camera loves her, you can see it, you can feel it.”
The key to her success, Dergarabedian said, is that the super-fit actress appeals to both genders. The tough-as-nails star is not an overt sexpot, nor a willowy sweetheart.
“What she brings to the table is a sexiness to her, but a down-to-earth likeability,” Dergarabedian said. “The premise of ’13 going on 30’ has been used numerous times, but the marketing campaign has been very effective.”
Quentin Tarantino’s “Kill Bill — Vol. 2” ranked third in its second week with $10.4 million. Rick Sands, chief operating officer of Miramax, said the simultaneous DVD debut of the first “Kill Bill” installment helped feed interest in the followup.
After an Easter surge to No. 1, “The Passion of the Christ” fell out of the top 10 this weekend to No. 11 with $2.1 million. Since opening on Ash Wednesday, the movie has taken in a spectacular $364.3 million domestically.