'Ghost Rider' Lights Box-Office Fire

Sunday, February 18th 2007, 2:41 pm
By: News On 6

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ Satan's bounty hunter has looted the wallets of movie-goers.

``Ghost Rider,'' Sony's comic-book adaptation starring Nicolas Cage as a motorcycle stunt driver moonlighting as a collector of evil souls for the devil, debuted as the top weekend movie with $44.5 million, according to studio estimates Sunday.

Debuting in second place with $22.1 million was Disney's ``Bridge to Terabithia,'' based on the children's novel about a boy and girl who create an elaborate fantasy land to escape from the troubles of the real world.

The movies bumped off the previous weekend's No. 1 flick, DreamWorks' Eddie Murphy comedy ``Norbit,'' which slipped to third place with $16.8 million, lifting its total to $58.9 million.

Premiering at No. 4 with $14 million was the Warner Bros. romance ``Music and Lyrics,'' starring Hugh Grant as a washed-up pop singer and Drew Barrymore as his unlikely songwriting partner.

The Lionsgate romance ``Tyler Perry's Daddy's Little Girls'' opened in fifth place with $12.1 million, a sharp drop from filmmaker Perry's February releases the last two years, 2006's ``Madea's Family Reunion,'' which premiered with $30 million, and 2005's ``Diary of a Mad Black Woman,'' which debuted with $21.9 million.

Universal's spy thriller ``Breach'' debuted at No. 6 with $10.4 million. It stars Chris Cooper as Robert Hanssen, the FBI man caught in 2001 for selling secrets to Russia, and Ryan Phillippe as a young bureau operative who helps bring him down.

Though trashed by critics, ``Ghost Rider'' helped pull Hollywood out of its box-office doldrums, with overall revenues rising for the first time in six weekends. The top 12 movies took in $141.4 million, up 28 percent from the same weekend last year.

``This is the weekend that could turn the tide and get us going in the right direction,'' said Paul Dergarabedian, president of box-office tracker Media By Numbers.

Based on the Marvel Comic books, ``Ghost Rider'' delivered Hollywood's biggest opening so far this year, topping the $34.2 million debut for ``Norbit.'' ``Ghost Rider'' was the best opening weekend ever for Cage, beating the $35.1 million debut of ``National Treasure.''

``Ghost Rider'' also extended Hollywood's winning streak with comic-book adaptations, a genre some critics have said would eventually play itself out.

``I think as long as stories are being told in a way that audiences embrace them, you can go for a long, long, long, long time,'' Bruer said.

Coming this summer are two big comic-book sequels, Sony's ``Spider-Man 3'' and 20th Century Fox's ``Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer.''

Estimated ticket sales for Friday through Sunday at U.S. and Canadian theaters, according to Media By Numbers LLC. Final figures will be released Monday.

1. ``Ghost Rider,'' $44.5 million.

2. ``Bridge to Terabithia,'' $22.1 million.

3. ``Norbit,'' $16.8 million.

4. ``Music and Lyrics,'' $14 million.

5. ``Tyler Perry's Daddy's Little Girls,'' $12.1 million.

6. ``Breach,'' $10.4 million.

7. ``Hannibal Rising,'' $5.5 million.

8. ``Because I Said So,'' $5 million.

9. ``The Messengers,'' $3.8 million.

10. ``Night at the Museum,'' $3.7 million.