LOS ANGELES -- Movie-goers took Ben Affleck up on his latest dare.
Affleck's "Daredevil," a big-budget gamble on a comic-book character more obscure than "Spider-Man" or "X-Men," paid off nicely with a $43.5 million weekend debut, according to studio estimates Sunday.
It was the second-best February debut ever behind the $58 million opening of "Hannibal" two years ago. "Daredevil" had the biggest haul ever for a movie opening over President's Day weekend, easily surpassing the previous best of $20.3 million for last year's "John Q."
The previous weekend's No. 1 movie, "How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days," fell to second place but held strongly with $19 million, pushing its 10-day total to $47.7 million. The Kate Hudson-Matthew McConaughey romance got a boost from Valentine's Day audiences Friday.
Riding the wave of its leading 13 Academy Awards nominations last week, the musical "Chicago" expanded to more theaters and took in $12.6 million, remaining in third place and pushing its two-month total to $80.7 million.
Disney's animated sequel "The Jungle Book 2" opened in fourth place with $11.9 million.
The overall box office shot up, with the top 12 movies taking in $130.1 million, a 22 percent increase over President's Day weekend last year.
In "Daredevil," based on the Marvel Comics hero, Affleck plays a blind attorney with superhuman other senses that allow him to become a deadly crusader for justice by night. The movie co-stars Jennifer Garner, Michael Clarke Duncan and Colin Farrell.
"The first tier of comic books would be 'Superman,' 'Batman,' 'Spider-Man,' 'X-Men.' This would probably be a second-tier character, but from the audiences that showed up Friday night, there's a big fan base," said Bruce Snyder, head of distribution for 20th Century Fox, which released "Daredevil."
Playing in 3,471 theaters, "Daredevil" averaged a strong $12,532 a cinema, compared with $4,238 in 2,808 theaters for the weekend's other new movie, "The Jungle Book 2."
Produced on a modest budget of under $20 million, "The Jungle Book 2" follows other recent titles Disney has mined from its vaults for inexpensive animated family flicks, among them "Return to Neverland" and "The Tigger Movie."
"The Jungle Book 2" is expected to at least match the $48 million gross of "Return to Neverland," last year's follow-up to the cartoon classic "Peter Pan," said Disney head of distribution Chuck Viane.
Along with best-picture front-runner "Chicago," other key Oscar contenders benefited from their nominations.
Best-picture nominee "The Hours" expanded to 1,003 theaters, up 454, and took in $3.3 million. The Virginia Woolf-related drama pushed its total to $26 million since opening in limited release in late December.
Also nominated for best picture, "The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers" grossed $3.45 million, virtually unchanged from the previous weekend even though its theater count fell sharply as it winds down its run. The blockbuster fantasy has taken in $325.3 million.
The dark comedy "About Schmidt" missed out on the best-picture category, but its lead-actor nomination for Jack Nicholson helped boost business. The film took in $3.55 million, up 18 percent from a weekend earlier, and its total gross climbed to $53.1 million.
Estimated ticket sales for Friday through Sunday at North American theaters, according to Exhibitor Relations Co. Inc.
1. "Daredevil," $43.5 million.
2. "How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days," $19 million.
3. "Chicago," $12.6 million.
4. "The Jungle Book 2," $11.9 million.
5. "Shanghai Knights," $11.4 million.
6. "The Recruit," $6.8 million.
7. "Final Destination 2," $6.2 million.
8. "Deliver Us From Eva," $4.4 million.
9. "Kangaroo Jack," $4 million.
10. "About Schmidt," $3.55 million.
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