Disney's "Race to Witch Mountain" raced to No. 1 at the weekend box office, bypassing expectations with $25 million in ticket sales.
The PG-rated sci-fi flick starring Dwayne Johnson as a cab driver with a pair of alien teenagers along for the ride topped the R-rated superhero epic "Watchmen," which earned $18.1 million in its second week.
Mark Zoradi, president of Disney's motion-picture group, said analysts had predicted that "Race to Witch Mountain," director Andy Fickman's re-imagination of the 1975 live-action film "Escape to Witch Mountain," would fly away with $20 million or less. Now he expects this "Witch Mountain" to maintain a high orbit in theaters with kids on spring break.
"I think audiences this weekend were really drawn to the action adventure of 'Race to Witch Mountain,'" said Zoradi. "There was also this element of parents over 30 who remembered the original and were drawn to this one, so I think that combination is what helped us exceed what folks in the industry thought this movie was going to do."
Ticket sales for "Watchmen" plummeted 67 percent from last weekend's $55.2 million debut, according to studio estimates Sunday. Jeff Goldstein, Warner Bros. executive vice president of distribution, said the studio anticipated the big dip for director Zack Snyder's comic book adaptation about a team of subversive superheros.
"It's very common with higher profile, highly anticipated movies," said Goldstein.
Factoring in 2009's higher admission prices, the weekend box office total was down 16 percent compared with last year, making it the first down weekend in six weeks.
Paul Dergarabedian, president of box office tracker Media By Numbers, does not believe the shift signals the end of 2009's otherwise stellar year at the box office.
"I don't think this down weekend reflects any kind of lack of interest by the audience," Dergarabedian said.
"I think it has to do with 'Dr. Seuss' Horton Hears a Who' opening a year ago with $45 million. That's really a tough comparison. Not every weekend this year is going to be up when you have some strong openings like that from last year."