Eddie Murphy probably won't win an Oscar for Norbit—like his accountant will care.
The broad comedy, literally, deigned a "lumbering vehicle" and worse by the nation's critics, killed at the weekend box office, taking in $34.2 million, per tallies compiled by Exhibitor Relations.
Elsewhere, Hannibal Lecter went starving with a relatively weak $13.1 million, second-place debut for the prequel Hannibal Rising. And the overall box office was down again, by a substantial 10 percent, when compared with the previous year.
Norbit did its part to aid the Hollywood cause. Its opening is the biggest yet this year, and, not counting the Shrek animated movies, the second biggest in Murphy's 25-year hit-and-miss career.
Murphy is currently on one of his hotter streaks and is considered the front-runner for the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for Dreamgirls.
Before Norbit, the last live-action Murphy movie to top $30 million in its first weekend was The Nutty Professor 2: The Klumps, which debuted with $42.5 million in 2000.
As in The Klumps, Murphy plays multiple roles in Norbit, the new comedy being about a regular guy (Murphy) and his obnoxious supersize fiancée (Murphy).
Among movies featuring black comics donning latex, padding and assorted accoutrements to play obese women, Norbit proved bigger than Martin Lawrence's Big Momma's House ($25.7 million in 2000) and Big Momma's House 2 ($27.8 million in 2006), and even Murphy's original Nutty Professor ($25.4 million in 1996).
Norbit's box-office prowess comes despite, or in spite of, terrible reviews.
At rottentomatoes.com, the film review site found only eight kind reviews, compared with 79 unkind ones. Norbit's overall "tomatometer" reading: a stone-cold 9 percent.
The comedy's critical buzz has been so bad that the Oscar blogosphere has speculated that Los Angeles-area Academy voters, faced each morning with the city's ubiquitous Norbit billboards, might think twice about casting ballots for Murphy.
If only Hannibal Rising had any kind of buzz, Oscar or otherwise. Instead, the latest thriller to feature author Thomas Harris' man-eating villain found neither critical nor mass acceptance.
Its take is the smallest for a Hannibal Lecter movie since Manhunter opened with $2.2 million (on only 779 screens) all the way back in 1986, per stats at Box Office Mojo.
Hannibal Rising, starring French actor Gaspard Ulliel as the fine young cannibal, is the first Lecter movie since Manhunter to be without Anthony Hopkins' teeth. By comparison, the last Hopkins-Hannibal movie, Red Dragon, debuted with $36.5 million in 2002.
Rounding out the top five were: the Diane Keaton comedy Because I Said So ($9.2 million, third place; $25.8 million overall), which didn't completely tank in its second weekend; the horror movie and reigning champ The Messengers ($7.2 million, fourth place; $24.7 million), which pretty much completely tanked in its second weekend; and Night at the Museum ($5.8 million, fifth place; $232.2 million overall), which kept rolling on.
Stomp the Yard ($2.36 million; $59.1 million overall) and Will Smith's The Pursuit of Happyness ($2.35 million; $160.5 million overall) both fell out of the Top 10 after several weeks.
Among Oscar-contending movies, Best Foreign-Language Film wannabe Pan's Labyrinth ($3.6 million, eighth place; $26.6 million) led the way.
On the art-house circuit, the German film The Lives of Others debuted with $222,727 on only 13 screens, for a weekend-best per-screen average of $17,133.
Here's a rundown of the top 10 films based on final studio figures compiled by Exhibitor Relations:
1. Norbit, $34.2 million
2. Hannibal Rising, $13.1 million
3. Because I Said So, $9.2 million
4. The Messengers, $7.2 million
5. Night at the Museum, $5.8 million
6. Epic Movie, $4.6 million
7. Smokin' Aces, $4.1 million
8. Pan's Labyrinth, $3.6 million
9. Dreamgirls, $3 million
10. The Queen, $2.4 million
[Originally published Feb. 11, 2007 at 1:42 p.m. PT.]