LOS ANGELES -- Flying reindeer beat flying fists as "The Santa Clause 2" debuted as the weekend's top move, trouncing "I Spy."
Overall, however, box office receipts were down steeply after climbing for seven straight weeks.
"The Santa Clause 2," with Tim Allen returning as the North Pole's No. 1 elf, collected $29 million, more than double the opening numbers for Eddie Murphy and Owen Wilson's action comedy, according to studio estimates Sunday.
"I Spy," loosely based on the 1960s TV series, opened a weak third with $14 million.
The horror movie "The Ring" held up well, remaining No. 2 with $18.5 million and raising its 17-day total to $64.9 million. Last weekend's top flick, "[filtered word]: The Movie," fell to fourth place with $13.1 million.
The top 12 movies grossed $103.1 million, off 22 percent from the same weekend last year, when "Monsters, Inc." debuted with $62.6 million - a record for an animated film.
"Santa Clause 2" distributor Disney opened the 1994 original two weeks before Thanksgiving. That time slot this year was taken by "Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets," forcing Disney to move up the sequel's release date.
"Kids don't care. They want Santa Claus to come early, so they're happy whenever he shows up," said Paul Dergarabedian, president of box-office tracker Exhibitor Relations.
Closer to the holidays, "Santa Clause 2" might have debuted with bigger numbers, but the early debut could give it a head start to play strongly through the holidays, he said.
"We just find in November, you can walk into any mall in America and it looks like Christmas already," said Chuck Viane, Disney of distribution.
Playing in 3,350 theaters, "Santa Clause 2" averaged a healthy $8,657 per cinema, compared with $4,400 in 3,182 theaters for "I Spy."
"I Spy" was generally trashed by critics. But distributor Sony said the movie had decent word-of-mouth at advance screenings and the studio was disappointed with the opening weekend.
"It's such a good-playing film, we hope it hangs in there," said Rory Brewer, Sony head of domestic distribution.
"Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones" debuted strongly in 58 huge-screen IMAX theaters, grossing $1.45 million for a $25,000 average. The movie, which comes out on video Nov. 12, has grossed $303.6 million.
The long-running "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" was off just 9 percent from the previous weekend, coming in at No. 6 with $5.6 million. With a total of $185.2 million the film, shot on a budget of just $5 million, is on its way to becoming the fifth movie this year to top $200 million.
Most movies do the bulk of their business in the first few weekends, but "Greek Wedding" has built slowly through word-of-mouth over its seven-month run.
"It's maybe the most amazing thing I've seen in terms of box office," Dergarabedian said.
Michael Moore's gun-culture documentary "Bowling for Columbine" expanded to 162 theaters, up by 51 from last weekend, and came in at No. 11 with $1.65 million for a $10,185 average. Salma Hayek's "Frida," a film biography of painter Frida Kahlo, widened to 47 theaters, up from a five-theater debut a week earlier, and grossed just over $1 million, averaging $21,596.
Estimated ticket sales for Friday through Sunday at North American theaters, according to Exhibitor Relations Co. Inc. Final figures will be released Monday.
1. "The Santa Clause 2," $29 million.
2. "The Ring," $18.5 million.
3. "I Spy," $14 million.
4. "[filtered word]: The Movie," $13.1 million.
5. "Ghost Ship," $6.6 million.
6. "My Big Fat Greek Wedding," $5.6 million.
7. "Sweet Home Alabama," $4.6 million.
8. "Punch-Drunk Love," $4.2 million.
9. "Red Dragon," $2.7 million.
10. "Brown Sugar," $1.7 million.