LOS ANGELES, Apr 17 (Reuters) The joke may be wearing a little thin for critics but the fourth installment of the ''Scary Movie'' spoof franchise managed to open atop the weekend box office in North America with sizable ticket sales.
According to studio estimates issued on Sunday, ''Scary Movie 4'' earned 41.0 million dollars in the three days beginning April 14, setting a new record for the Easter weekend.
But the PG-13 release scored the third-lowest bow in the franchise's history, behind 2003's ''Scary Movie 3'' with 48.1 million dollars and the 2000 original with 42.3 million dollars.
''Scary Movie 2'' opened with just 20.5 million dollars in 2001.
However ''Scary 4'' co-distributor, the Weinstein Co., said the opening exceeded its expectations, which were in the high-30 million dollars range.
''We're really elated with this opening,'' said Steve Bunnell, chairman of distribution at closely held Weinstein, which partnered on the project with Walt Disney Co.
''Scary 3'' was released in late October to tie in with Halloween festivities, Bunnell noted, while ''Scary 4'' beat the 30 million dollars Easter record held by ''Panic Room'' since 2002. To the likely chagrin of critics, who lamented its unsophisticated humor, Bunnell said plans are afoot for a fifth movie.
MILD START FOR ''WILD'' As with ''Scary 3,'' the new movie was directed by comedy veteran David Zucker, the man behind the ''Airplane!'' and ''Naked Gun'' films. With a disparate cast, including series veteran Anna Faris, cameo queen Carmen Electra and ''Naked Gun'' star Leslie Nielsen, the spoof takes on such easy targets as ''Brokeback Mountain'' and Tom Cruise.
While ''Scary 3'' had the best start at 48.1 million dollars, it burned out quickly, finishing with 110 million dollars. The original did the best by that measure, grossing 157 million dollars overall.
Disney, which will distribute ''Scary 4'' overseas, bombed with the other new release in the top 10, ''The Wild.'' The animated barnyard comedy opened at No. 4 with 9.6 million dollars. It was viewed by many critics as being very similar to archrival DreamWorks' summer 2005 hit ''Madagascar.'' A Disney spokesman did not return a call seeking comment.
Competition from incumbent champion ''Ice Age: The Meltdown'' did not help. The hit cartoon slipped to No. 2 in its third weekend with 20 million dollars, taking its 17-day haul to 147 million dollars.
The first blockbuster of 2006 was released by News Corp.'s Twentieth Century Fox.
The studio's art-house arm, Fox Searchlight, continued to do well with one of the most acclaimed films of the year, ''Thank You For Smoking.'' The big-tobacco satire rose two places to No. 8 with 4.5 million dollars, after tripling its theater count in its fifth weekend. Now at 1,015 outlets, it is still playing in less than a third of the theaters showing each of the top three films. The film's total stands at 11.5 million dollars.
The Rob Schneider baseball comedy ''The Benchwarmers'' slipped one place to No. 3 with 10 million dollars, taking its 10-day haul to 36 million dollars. It was released by Columbia Pictures, a unit of Sony Corp..
Also in its second weekend, the Antonio Banderas ballroom dancing saga ''Take The Lead'' dropped two places to No. 5 with 6.7 million dollars, and a tally of 22.5 million dollars. It was released by New Line Cinema, a unit of Time Warner Inc.
REUTERS YA ND0930