LOS ANGELES - "Diary of a Mad Black Woman" got its revenge against mixed critics' reviews by earning $22.7 million and taking first place at the weekend box office.
The drama-comedy is based on a script by Tyler Perry from his play of the same name and also features him cross-dressed as a gun-toting grandmother and in two other supporting roles. The film's strong debut pushed Will Smith's romantic comedy "Hitch" to the second spot with a weekend haul of $21 million, according to studio estimates Sunday.
Films contending for top honors at the Academy Awards also continued to draw healthy audiences with best picture nominees "Million Dollar Baby," "The Aviator" and "Sideways" ranked among the top 11 films.
Final figures were to be released Monday.
"Diary of a Mad Black Woman" follows Kimberly Elise's character, Helen, who is kicked out of her house by her husband on their 18th wedding anniversary so his longtime mistress can move in. Helen recovers from heartbreak by reconnecting with her cantankerous grandmother Madea, played by Perry, and by relying on her faith.
The film received some poor reviews, with The Associated Press giving it a single star in its four-star rating system and National Public Radio describing it as "half inspired and half really, really terrible."
Showing in 1,483 theaters, "Diary of a Mad Black Woman" averaged a healthy $15,307 a cinema.
Perry, who has gained a strong following among blacks with his plays, should be given credit for the film's success, said Tom Ortenberg, president of Lions Gate Films Releasing.
"The performance of the film is really a testament to Tyler Perry," Ortenberg said. "He's a cultural phenomenon that is taking America by storm. In the next few weeks, those unfamiliar with Tyler will become familiar with Tyler."
Audiences in exit polls gave the film an A-plus rating and the vast majority said they would recommend the PG-13 rated film to others, Ortenberg said.
"Every once in a while there is a film that comes out of nowhere and grabs the No. 1 spot and certainly 'Diary of a Mad Black Woman' has done that," said Paul Dergarabedian, president of box-office tracker Exhibitor Relations. "It shows the power that the urban audience wields at the box office."
"Hitch," another PG-13 rated film, played widely in 3,571 theaters and its $122 million over three weeks made it the first film in 2005 to crack the $100 million mark.
"Million Dollar Baby," which stars best-actress nominee Hilary Swank as a bullheaded boxer, ranked sixth with an estimated $7.2 million. Fellow best-picture nominees "The Aviator," a biopic about Howard Hughes, finished in ninth with $3.9 million, while the drinking road-trip movie "Sideways" ranked 11th with $3.5 million.
The latest Wes Craven horror film, "Cursed," debuted in fourth place with $9.6 million, while the weekend's other new film, the action-comedy "Man of the House" starring Tommy Lee Jones, opened in fifth place with $9 million.
Revenues from the top 12 movies were estimated at $105.4 million, down 24.6 percent from the same weekend last year. The comparison was skewed because Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ" debuted last year with $83.8 million.
Estimated ticket sales for Friday through Sunday at North American theaters, according to Exhibitor Relations Co. Inc.
1. "Diary of a Mad Black Woman," $22.7 million.
2. "Hitch," $21 million.
3. "Constantine," $11.8 million.
4. "Cursed," $9.6 million.
5. "Man of the House," $9 million.
6. "Million Dollar Baby," $7.2 million.
7. "Because of Winn-Dixie," $6.8 million.
8. "Are We There Yet?", $4 million.
9. "The Aviator," $3.9 million.
10. "Son of the Mask," $3.8 million.