Forbidden Kingdom

Chan Kam Chuen/Lionsgate

Forget Sarah Marshall. The weekend box office was about Jackie Chan and Jet Li.

The Forbidden Kingdom, the first movie with the sense and presumably insurance to pair up the two martial arts greats, opened with $20.9 million, per estimates compiled Sunday by Exhibitor Relations.

Forgetting Sarah Marshall, the heavily promoted comedy written and starring Judd Apatow pupil Jason Segel and Kristen Bell, placed second, with $17.3 million.

The latter debut wasn't terrible. It was, in fact, better than Walk Hard's and Drillbit Taylor's, to name two other recent Apatow productions. It just wasn't necessarily a debut befitting a heavily promoted comedy.

What The Forbidden Kingdom might have lacked in extended commercials during The Office, it made up for with Chan and Li, who turned out to be quite the guy magnets.

According to Steve Rothenberg, Lionsgate's president of distribution, fully 68 percent of Forbidden Kingdom ticketbuyers were men—men who helped make Forbidden Kingdom the first No. 1 martial arts movie since Li's Hero in 2004.

"To open over $20 million, certainly that was something a little better [than expected]," Rothenberg said Sunday. "Obviously, it's very exciting."

The movie goes down as Chan's biggest opener outside of the Rush Hour franchise, and as Li's outside of the Lethal Weapon franchise (he costarred in the fourth one).

Ninety percent of Forbidden Kingdom moviegoers said they turned out because of either Chan or Li, Rothenberg said. The exec could not say which icon proved to be the bigger individual draw because, frankly, he said, the studio didn't ask.

And that's how you keep the peace between two men with deadly skills.

Elsewhere:

  • Forbidden Kingdom and Forgetting Sarah Marshall helped push the box office ahead of the take for the same weekend last year. Overall, the 2008 box office continues to lag. And Hollywood continues to look to Iron Man to begin the healing.
  • The 108-minute 88 Minutes (fourth place, $6.8 million) was the worst wide-release opener for Al Pacino since Simone killed the market for CGI actresses in 2002.
  • In its second weekend, Street Kings (seventh place, $4 million; $19.9 million overall) dropped like a rock. An extra heavy one.
  • The creationism documentary, Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed (ninth place, $3.2 million), relied on church groups, not critics, to secure its top 10 debut. Per Box Office Mojo's rankings, the movie is already the 26th biggest grossing documentary ever.
  • Morgan Spurlock's new documentary Where in the World Is Osama Bin Laden? could have used the buying power of church groups. Bowing at 102 theaters, the movie made just $143,299 for a paltry per-screen average of $1,405.
  • Owen Wilson's Drillbit Taylor ($900,000; $29.8 million overall, per Box Office Mojo) exited the top 10 after four disappointing weekends.
  • Superhero Movie ($1.5 million; $23.5 million overall) fell out of the top 10 before surpassing legends of the spoof-comedy genre such as Airplane II: The Sequel, Young Doctors in Love and Spy Hard.
  • Also leaving the top 10 were Smart People ($1.6 million; $6.8 million overall) and The Ruins ($1.2 million; $15.8 million overall, per Box Office Mojo).
  • The indie drama The Visitor ($163,000; $280,000 overall) remained the biggest little hit in theaters, making its money off just 18 screens.

Here's a recap of the top-grossing weekend films based on Friday-Sunday estimates compiled by Exhibitor Relations:

1. The Forbidden Kingdom, $20.9 million
2. Forgetting Sarah Marshall, $17.3 million
3. Prom Night, $9.1 million
4. 88 Minutes, $6.8 million
5. Nim's Island, $5.7 million
6. 21, $5.5 million
7. Street Kings, $4 million
8. Dr. Seuss' Horton Hears a Who!, $3.5 million
9. Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed, $3.2 million
10. Leatherheads, $3 million

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