LOS ANGELES -- Johnny Depp has made another transformation: oddball actor to box office moneymaker.
The star known for playing eccentrics in cult favorites such as "Ed Wood" and "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas" is establishing himself as a major box office draw with two films this weekend in the top five.
"Once Upon a Time in Mexico," starring Antonio Banderas as a mariachi-musician gunslinger and Depp as a sleazy CIA agent, debuted in first place with $24 million, according to industry estimates Sunday.
It was Depp's second consecutive No. 1 debut after the summertime hit "Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl."
"Pirates," still performing strongly in its 10th week of release, came in at No. 5 with $4.6 million. So far, it has earned $288 million, making it the second highest-grossing movie of the year, behind "Finding Nemo."
Analysts said Depp's comical sashaying swashbuckler in "Pirates" may have helped sell audiences on "Once Upon a Time in Mexico," which was written and directed by Robert Rodriguez as a sequel to his films "El Mariachi" and "Desperado."
"Johnny Depp's career has been very interesting but he's normally not in the big blockbusters," said Paul Dergarabedian, president of box office tracker Exhibitor Relations Co. "Suddenly, he's in the No. 1 and No. 5 movie in the same weekend. For any actor that's great, and for Johnny Depp it's totally unexpected and welcome."
Depp has had blockbusters before, such as "Sleepy Hollow" (1999) and "Chocolat" (2000), and modest hits like "Edward Scissorhands" (1990) and "Donnie Brasco" (1997), but they have been few and far between the respected but little-seen cult films like "Dead Man," "Ed Wood," "Benny & Joon" and "Fear and Loathing."
The first weekend's ticket sales for "Once Upon a Time in Mexico" nearly matched the total $25.4 million theatrical gross for 1995's "Desperado," which starred Banderas but not Depp.
The Nicolas Cage caper "Matchstick Men," about a con man and his daughter, opened in second place with $13.3 million, a modest debut consistent with some of Cage's recent underperforming films such as "Windtalkers" and "Captain Corelli's Mandolin."
"This wasn't the kind of film that could strike across-the-board appeal," said Brandon Gray, proprietor of BoxOfficeMojo.com. "He opened this about as well as it could be opened."
The cheaply made trapped-in-the-woods horror film "Cabin Fever" opened in third place with $8.5 million.
"It's a great weekend for horror and it's been a good season for horror," Dergarabedian said, citing the success of such recent slasher-monster films as "Jeepers Creepers 2" and "Freddy vs. Jason."
Ticket sales overall bounced back from last weekend's dismal earnings of $50.5 million, the lowest box office weekend in two years with "Dickie Roberts: Former Child Star" at No. 1. This weekend, "Dickie Roberts" fell to fourth place with $5 million.
The Bill Murray dramedy "Lost in Translation" debuted with $901,143 in just 23 theaters, posting an outstanding per-screen average of $39,180. The film opens in 125 theaters next weekend.
The top 12 movies grossed $73.5 million, up 45 percent from last week and about 1 percent from last year, when "Barbershop" and "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" topped the box office.
Estimated ticket sales for Friday through Sunday at North American theaters, according to Exhibitor Relations Co. Inc. Final figures will be released Monday.
1. "Once Upon a Time in Mexico," $24 million.
2. "Matchstick Men," $13.3 million.
3. "Cabin Fever," $8.5 million.
4. "Dickie Roberts: Former Child Star," $5 million.
5. "Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl," $4.6 million.
6. "Freaky Friday," $4.1 million.
7. "Jeepers Creepers 2," $3 million.
8. "Open Range," $2.809 million.
9. "S.W.A.T.", $2.800 million.
10. "Seabiscuit," $2.7 million.
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