LOS ANGELES -- Love among older adults conquered the box office as Jack Nicholson and Diane Keaton's romance "Something's Gotta Give" debuted in the top spot with $17 million.
The previous weekend's top film, "The Last Samurai," slipped to second place with $14.05 million, according to studio estimates Sunday.
The Farrelly brothers' comedy "Stuck on You," starring Matt Damon and Greg Kinnear as conjoined twins, opened at No. 3 with $10 million. The teen romance "Love Don't Cost a Thing," featuring Nick Cannon, debuted in fourth place with $6.5 million.
The overall box office slipped, with the top 12 movies grossing $83 million, down 8 percent from the same weekend a year ago.
Ticket sales will surge this week with "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King," the conclusion of Peter Jackson's adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien's fantasy classic. The film opens Wednesday.
"Return of the King" could surpass the $62 million opening weekend for last year's middle chapter, "The Two Towers," said Paul Dergarabedian, president of box-office tracker Exhibitor Relations.
In limited release, a reissue of "Two Towers" took in $700,000 this past weekend, pushing the film's total gross to $340 million and priming the pump for "Return of the King."
"This past weekend was the calm before the storm," Dergarabedian said. "Everybody's waiting for 'Return of the King' and the onslaught of all the holiday movies coming after that."
Opening Friday is Julia Roberts' "Mona Lisa Smile." Christmas week brings Nicole Kidman and Jude Law's Civil War epic "Cold Mountain," Steve Martin's comedy "Cheaper by the Dozen," Ben Affleck's sci-fi tale "Paycheck" and a live-action version of "Peter Pan."
Distributor Sony hopes the well-reviewed "Something's Gotta Give" will linger in theaters through the holidays. Keaton stars as a 55-year-old playwright in a love triangle involving a 63-year-old womanizer (Nicholson) and a 30-something doctor (Keanu Reeves).
"For the holidays, this is the perfect piece of entertainment, especially in a market that for the most part has had either children's films or darker-themed adult films out there," said Jeff Blake, Sony Pictures head of distribution. "This is funny, well-written, and we think works for all audiences."
Though aimed at older adults, "Something's Gotta Give" scored well among younger crowds, with viewers under 30 accounting for a third of the audience, Blake said.
It was Sony's ninth movie this year to debut as No. 1 for the weekend, breaking the old industry record of eight set three times in past years by Warner Bros., Blake said.
Playing in 2,677 theaters, "Something's Gotta Give" averaged a solid $6,350 per showing, compared to a $3,330 average in 3,003 theaters for "Stuck on You" and $3,544 in 1,844 theaters for "Love Don't Cost a Thing."
In limited release, Tim Burton's tall-tale adventure "Big Fish" debuted strongly, grossing $215,000 in six theaters for a $35,833 average. The father-son reunion story stars Albert Finney, Ewan McGregor, Jessica Lange and Billy Crudup.
The 17th century drama "Girl With a Pearl Earring," starring Colin Firth as Dutch artist Vermeer and Scarlett Johansson as a servant who inspires him, also opened well. In seven theaters, the film took in $90,000 for a $12,857 average.
"Big Fish" and "Girl With a Pearl Earring" expand to more theaters Christmas week.
Estimated ticket sales for Friday through Sunday at North American theaters, according to Exhibitor Relations Co. Inc. Final figures will be released Monday.
1. "Something's Gotta Give," $17 million.
2. "The Last Samurai," $14.05 million.
3. "Stuck on You," $10 million.
4. "Love Don't Cost a Thing," $6.5 million.
5. "The Haunted Mansion," $6.3 million.
6. "Bad Santa," $6.21 million.
7. "Elf," $6.2 million.
8. "Honey," $5.1 million.
9. "Dr. Seuss' the Cat in the Hat," $4.2 million.
10. "Gothika," $2.7 million.