LOS ANGELES - Clay paid off at the box office for "Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit." The clay-animated family film debuted as the top weekend movie with $16.1 million.
The airplane thriller "Flightplan," which had held the top box-office slot the previous two weekends, slipped to second place with $10.8 million, lifting its total to $60.9 million, according to studio estimates Sunday.
A rush of new wide releases filled out the top five, led by Cameron Diaz, Toni Collette and Shirley MacLaine's tale of squabbling sisters, "In Her Shoes," which opened at No. 3 with $10 million.
Al Pacino and Matthew McConaughey's sports-gambling flick "Two for the Money" debuted in fourth place with $8.4 million.
"The Gospel" - starring Boris Kodjoe as an R&B singer making peace with his faith and his estranged father, a church bishop - had a surprisingly strong opening of $8 million, placing fifth for the weekend. The movie played in just 969 theaters, barely one-fourth of the cinema count for "Wallace & Gromit."
The restaurant comedy "Waiting," with Ryan Reynolds, Anna Faris and Luis Guzman, premiered at No. 7 with $5.7 million.
Overall revenues slipped, with the top 12 movies taking in $87.8 million, down 10 percent from the same weekend last year.
Two acclaimed movies opened strongly in limited release. Actor-director George Clooney's "Good Night, and Good Luck," featuring David Strathairn as legendary broadcast journalist Edward R. Murrow, took in $420,000 in 11 theaters.
"The Squid and the Whale," starring Jeff Daniels and Laura Linney in a comic drama of a family's bitter divorce, grossed $124,000 in four theaters.
"Audiences are evidently paying attention to critical raves and really showing up in big numbers for these independent movies that have been very well-reviewed and kind of get a must-see vibe going for them," said Paul Dergarabedian, president of box-office tracker Exhibitor Relations.
"Wallace & Gromit" was based on three short films made for British television about the adventures of a cheese-loving inventor and his long-suffering canine pal.
Featuring the voices of Peter Sallis, Helena Bonham Carter and Ralph Fiennes, the big-screen "Wallace & Gromit" pits the duo against a monster rabbit ravaging the town's vegetable gardens.
"Wallace & Gromit" follows "Tim Burton's Corpse Bride" as the fall's second film created through stop-motion animation, which involves photographing inanimate objects a frame at a time. The last big stop-motion film was "Chicken Run," from the makers of "Wallace & Gromit," which debuted with $17.5 million and went on to become a $100 million hit.
Distributor DreamWorks is counting on the film's stellar reviews and strong word of mouth to give "Wallace & Gromit" a long run in theaters. Though popular in the United States through the TV shorts, the characters have been far better known in their native Britain.
"In the U.S., they weren't as well-known as people might imagine," said Jim Tharp, head of distribution for DreamWorks. "I think they certainly will be after this weekend."
"The Gospel" was a late addition to the schedule of distributor Sony, whose strategy of marketing the movie heavily to black church groups paid off. Blacks accounted for 85 percent of the movie's audience, said Rory Bruer, Sony head of distribution.
Estimated ticket sales for Friday through Sunday at U.S. and Canadian theaters, according to Exhibitor Relations Co. Inc. Final figures will be released Monday.
1. "Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit," $16.1 million.
2. "Flightplan," $10.8 million.
3. "In Her Shoes," $10 million.
4. "Two for the Money," $8.4 million.
5. "The Gospel," $8 million.
6. "Tim Burton's Corpse Bride," $6.5 million.
7. "Waiting," $5.7 million.
8. "A History of Violence," $5.1 million.
9. "Serenity," $4.9 million.
10. "Into the Blue," $4.8 million.
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