LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Nicolas Cage proved again to be a self-fulfilling prophet of the megaplex as his latest big-screen thriller, "Knowing," topped the North American box office this weekend with an opening tally of $24.8 million, according to studio figures on Sunday.
The sci-fi adventure, starring Cage as an astrophysicist who decodes an encrypted prophecy of global doom and races to save the world from cataclysm, marked the fifth-biggest movie opening of his career and his ninth No. 1 film since 1997.
Besides underscoring Cage's enduring appeal as one of Hollywood's most bankable heroes, the film's end-of-the-world scenario seemed to offer an ideal antidote for moviegoers weary of gloomy economic news.
"In a doomsday scenario, dollars and cents don't really matter anymore, and I think that's really appealing to people," said box office analyst Paul Dergarabedian, president of Media By Numbers. "Who cares about mortgages anymore if the world's going to blow up?"
Cage clinched his biggest opening in 2007 with "Ghost Rider," which grossed $45.4 million its first weekend, followed by his two "National Treasure" adventures with $44.8 million and $35.1 million. Those three films went on to gross well over $500 million domestically alone.
"The audience has pretty much bought Nicolas Cage as a big movie star, and they like him in roles where he seems to be unraveling a mystery of some sort," said Richard Fay, head of domestic distribution for Summit.
Fay said the film also benefited from having opened when many college students are home on spring break, though exit polls showed moviegoers over age 25 accounted for 60 percent of its audience.
"Knowing," released by independent distributor Summit Entertainment, easily beat out two other movies opening in wide release -- the male-bonding comedy "I Love You, Man" from Paramount Pictures, and Universal Pictures' international spy thriller "Duplicity," co-starring Julia Roberts and Clive Owen.
"I Love You, Man," featuring Paul Rudd and Jason Segel, opened at No. 2 with an estimated $18 million in U.S. and Canadian ticket sales for Friday through Sunday. Rudd and Segel previously appeared together in last year's "Forgetting Sarah Marshall," which Segel wrote, and the 2007 comedy "Knocked Up."
"Duplicity" grossed $14.4 million to land at No. 3 this weekend. Its co-stars, Roberts and Owen, previously appeared together in the 2004 romantic drama "Closer."
Last weekend's top movie, "Race to Witch Mountain," fell to fourth place with receipts of $13 million, while the superhero film "Watchmen" rounded out the top five at $6.7 million in its third weekend.
Horror remake "The Last House on the Left" slipped three notches to No. 6 in its second weekend with $5.9 million, while the kidnap thriller "Taken," starring Liam Neeson, grossed $4.1 million in its eighth weekend to fall to No. 7.
The Oscar-winning rags-to-riches hit "Slumdog Millionaire" eased two spots to No. 8 with $2.7 million. That brought its domestic tally after 19 weeks to $137.2 million.