LOS ANGELES — Jerry Seinfeld turned more honey into money as his animated comedy "Bee Movie" buzzed to the top of the box office in its second weekend.
The DreamWorks-Paramount flick, which had debuted at No. 2 behind Universal's "American Gangster" the previous weekend, packed in family crowds to pull in $26 million, raising its total to $72.2 million, according to studio estimates Sunday.
"American Gangster," starring Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe, was a strong No. 2 with $24.3 million in sales, lifting its total to $80.7 million.
"We don't often see a movie start out in the No. 2 position then move up to No. 1," said Paul Dergarabedian, president of box-office tracker Media By Numbers. "It just shows how strong the word of mouth is on this movie and that families are really enjoying it."
Adult audiences had put "American Gangster" ahead on Friday, but weekend matinee crowds lifted "Bee Movie" to the top spot. "Bee Movie" is positioned well for Thanksgiving next week, when children will be out of school.
"This is terrific playing time for this movie," said Anne Globe, head of marketing for DreamWorks.
Two of Hollywood's biggest cultural icons _ Santa Claus and Tom Cruise _ had to settle for also-ran debuts.
The Warner Bros. family comedy "Fred Claus," with Vince Vaughn as the black-sheep brother of Santa (Paul Giamatti), opened at No. 3 with $19.2 million, on par with last November's $19.5 million debut of Tim Allen's holiday tale "The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause."
Cruise's "Lions for Lambs," co-starring Robert Redford and Meryl Streep in a drama interlocking three stories in the war on terror, premiered at No. 4 with $6.7 million. The movie directed by Redford was the first release by the rejuvenated MGM banner United Artists since Cruise and producing partner Paula Wagner took it over last year.
Costing a modest $35 million to produce, "Lions for Lambs" was aimed at an older, thinking-person's audience compared to the crowds that turn out for Cruise's action movies. Just over two-thirds of the audience was 35 or older, according to MGM.
"Older audiences don't necessarily come out the first weekend, so we're looking to get a very solid run all the way through the Thanksgiving holiday," said Clark Woods, MGM head of distribution.
Summit Entertainment's "P2," starring Wes Bentley and Rachel Nichols in a thriller about a woman trapped in a parking garage and terrorized by the attendant on Christmas Eve, opened at No. 8 with $2.2 million.
Joel and Ethan Coen's crime tale "No Country for Old Men" got off to a great start in limited release, taking in $1.2 million in just 28 theaters for an average of $42,929 a cinema.
By comparison, "Fred Claus" averaged $5,336 in 3,603 theaters and "Lions for Lambs" did $3,029 in 2,215 cinemas.
"No Country for Old Men," a Miramax release, is one of the year's most acclaimed films, starring Tommy Lee Jones as a weary Texas sheriff, Javier Bardem as a ruthless killer and Josh Brolin as a man on the run after making off with $2 million from a drug deal gone violently wrong.
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. "Bee Movie," $26 million.
2. "American Gangster," $24.3 million.
3. "Fred Claus," $19.2 million.
4. "Lions for Lambs," $6.7 million.
5. "Dan in Real Life," $5.9 million.
6. "Saw IV," $5 million.
7. "The Game Plan," $2.4 million.
8. "P2," $2.2 million.
9. "30 Days of Night," $2.1 million.
10. "Martian Child," $1.75 million.
On the Net:
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.