LOS ANGELES - Satan's bounty hunter has looted the wallets of movie-goers.
"Ghost Rider," Sony's comic-book adaptation starring Nicolas Cage as a motorcycle stunt driver moonlighting as a collector of evil souls for the devil, debuted as the top weekend movie with $44.5 million, according to studio estimates Sunday.
Debuting in second place with $22.1 million was Disney's "Bridge to Terabithia," based on the children's novel about a boy and girl who create an elaborate fantasy land to escape from the troubles of the real world.
The movies bumped off the previous weekend's No. 1 flick, DreamWorks' Eddie Murphy comedy "Norbit," which slipped to third place with $16.8 million, lifting its total to $58.9 million.
Premiering at No. 4 with $14 million was the Warner Bros. romance "Music and Lyrics," starring Hugh Grant as a washed-up pop singer and Drew Barrymore as his unlikely songwriting partner.
The Lionsgate romance "Tyler Perry's Daddy's Little Girls" opened in fifth place with $12.1 million, a sharp drop from filmmaker Perry's February releases the last two years, 2006's "Madea's Family Reunion," which premiered with $30 million, and 2005's "Diary of a Mad Black Woman," which debuted with $21.9 million.
Universal's spy thriller "Breach" debuted at No. 6 with $10.4 million. It stars Chris Cooper as Robert Hanssen, the FBI man caught in 2001 for selling secrets to Russia, and Ryan Phillippe as a young bureau operative who helps bring him down.
Though trashed by critics, "Ghost Rider" helped pull Hollywood out of its box-office doldrums, with overall revenues rising for the first time in six weekends. The top 12 movies took in $141.4 million, up 28 percent from the same weekend last year.
"This is the weekend that could turn the tide and get us going in the right direction," said Paul Dergarabedian, president of box-office tracker Media By Numbers.
Based on the Marvel Comic books, "Ghost Rider" delivered Hollywood's biggest opening so far this year, topping the $34.2 million debut for "Norbit." "Ghost Rider" was the best opening weekend ever for Cage, beating the $35.1 million debut of "National Treasure."
"Ghost Rider" also extended Hollywood's winning streak with comic-book adaptations, a genre some critics have said would eventually play itself out.
"I think as long as stories are being told in a way that audiences embrace them, you can go for a long, long, long, long time," Bruer said.
Coming this summer are two big comic-book sequels, Sony's "Spider-Man 3" and 20th Century Fox's "Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer."
Estimated ticket sales for Friday through Sunday at U.S. and Canadian theaters, according to Media By Numbers LLC. Final figures will be released Monday.
1. "Ghost Rider," $44.5 million.
2. "Bridge to Terabithia," $22.1 million.
3. "Norbit," $16.8 million.
4. "Music and Lyrics," $14 million.
5. "Tyler Perry's Daddy's Little Girls," $12.1 million.
6. "Breach," $10.4 million.
7. "Hannibal Rising," $5.5 million.
8. "Because I Said So," $5 million.
9. "The Messengers," $3.8 million.
10. "Night at the Museum," $3.7 million.
Universal Pictures and Focus Features are owned by NBC Universal, a joint venture of General Electric Co. and Vivendi Universal; Sony Pictures, Sony Screen Gems and Sony Pictures Classics are units of Sony Corp.; DreamWorks, Paramount and Paramount Vantage are divisions of Viacom Inc.; Disney's parent is The Walt Disney Co.; Miramax is a division of The Walt Disney Co.; 20th Century Fox, Fox Searchlight Pictures and Fox Atomic are owned by News Corp.; Warner Bros., New Line, Warner Independent and Picturehouse are units of Time Warner Inc.; MGM is owned by a consortium of Providence Equity Partners, Texas Pacific Group, Sony Corp., Comcast Corp., DLJ Merchant Banking Partners and Quadrangle Group; Lionsgate is owned by Lionsgate Entertainment Corp.; IFC Films is owned by Rainbow Media Holdings, a subsidiary of Cablevision Systems Corp.