LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - In a major upset, former wrestler Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson pummeled the box office competition with his new family comedy "The Game Plan," which beat presumed victor "The Kingdom" for top honors.
"The Game Plan," in which Johnson plays a football star confronted by the 8-year-old daughter he never knew about, sold about $22.7 million worth of tickets since opening Friday, said distributor Walt Disney Pictures.
Universal Pictures' terrorism thriller "The Kingdom," starring Jamie Foxx and Jennifer Garner, followed with $17.7 million in its first three days.
Industry pundits had expected "The Kingdom" to open at No. 1 with sales in the low-$20 million range, with "The Game Plan" kicking off in the high-teen millions.
Critics were underwhelmed by both films, but "everybody has been starved" for a family comedy, said Chuck Viane, president of distribution at Walt Disney Co.'s domestic theatrical
Johnson's last movie, 2006's "Gridiron Gang," opened at No. 1 in September 2006 with $14.4 million. "The Game Plan" marks his biggest opening since 2002's "The Scorpion King" ($36 million).
He is not the first action hero to become a kid-friendly star. In 2005, Disney's Vin Diesel comedy "The Pacifier" surprised everyone by opening at No. 1 with $30.6 million. And Arnold Schwarzenegger had a huge hit in 1990 with his unconventional turn in "Kindergarten Cop."
"The Kingdom," meanwhile, stars Foxx as the head of a small team of FBI investigators who probe a horrific terrorist attack against American civilians in Riyadh.
A Universal spokeswoman said the opening for the $70 million film was "perfectly reasonable" given its adult rating, difficult subject matter and appeal to older audiences who generally do not rush out on the first weekend. It hoped that good exit polling results would bode well for future weeks.
Universal, a unit of General Electric Co's NBC Universal Inc., financed the picture with a private investment fund that has plowed $600 million into a slate of 18 movies released by Universal and Sony Pictures.
Gun Hill Road 1, formed by independent financier Relativity Media, has backed a number of disappointments, such as "All the King's Men," "Doom," "RV" and "Monster House," as well as the hits "Ghost Rider" and "The Pursuit of Happyness."
Foxx has been hit and miss with action movies: "Miami Vice" opened to $25.7 million in July 2006, and "Jarhead" to $27.7 million in November 2005. But "Stealth" crashed on takeoff with $13.3 million in August that year.
Also new to the top-10 was the Beatle-themed musical romance "Across the Universe," which jumped three places to No. 10 with $2.1 million in its third weekend. The Columbia Pictures release has earned $5.5 million. Currently playing in just 339 theaters, the film will go into broad release on October 12.
Last weekend's champ, Screen Gems' zombie horror "Resident Evil: Extinction," fell to No. 3 with $8 million, taking its 10-day haul to $36.8 million, followed by the comedy "Good Luck Chuck" with $6.3 million and the Western "3:10 to Yuma" with $4.2 million. The respective totals for the Lionsgate releases rose to $23.6 million and $43.9 million.
Columbia and Screen Gems are units of Sony Corp. Lionsgate is a unit of Lions Gate Entertainment Corp.