How does a star reignite a career? Sometimes all it takes is a flaming skull, cool choppers and Eva Mendes' cleavage.

Certainly, the combination worked wonders for Nicolas Cage with his skull-, chopper- and cleavage-graced Ghost Rider burning up the four-day holiday-weekend box office with a hot $52 million, according to final studio figures Tuesday from Exhibitor Relations.

The debut figured to put Cage on track for his biggest hit since 2004's National Treasure and help ease the sting of flops such as 2005's The Weather Man and 2006's The Wicker Man.

Ghost Rider stars Cage as a jelly-bean-noshing, Elvis-drawling daredevil—think Evel Knievel, minus the jelly beans and the drawl—whose head turns into a flaming skull when the moon comes out at night on account of he once sort-of, accidentally sold his soul to Peter Fonda. Mendes and her cleavage costar as Cage's love interest.

Reviews were not kind. Business was.

The movie opened with $15.3 million on Friday and kept right on rolling. From Friday to Sunday alone, Ghost Rider scored $45.4 million, easily the year's biggest three-day gross to date. From Friday to Monday, it helped power the box office to the biggest President's Day weekend ever, Exhibitor Relations said.

Among comic-book movies—Ghost Rider's based on the 1973-debuting Marvel series—Cage's three-day opening ranks alongside the likes of Batman Returns ($45.7 million in 1992), and outranks the likes of Daredevil ($40.3 million in 2003), per Box Office Mojo stats. The record for all-time-biggest comic-book movie debut belongs, still, to Spider-Man, which snared an epic $114.8 million in 2002.

As good as things got for Ghost Rider, the flick left enough money on the table for the family fantasy Bridge to Terabithia (second place, $22.6 million Friday-Sunday; $28.5 million Friday-Monday) to enjoy a strong debut.

Last weekend's champ, Norbit (third place, $16.8 million Friday-Sunday; $19.9 million Friday-Monday), didn't exactly go starving either. To date, the Eddie Murphy comedy has grossed $62 million.

Hugh Grant and Drew Barrymore might be wishing they'd thought of the flaming-skull bit for Music and Lyrics. The romantic comedy's opening was relatively soft (fourth place, $13.6 million Friday-Sunday; $15.9 million Friday-Monday). Still, it was Grant's biggest bow since 2002's Two Weeks Notice, according to Box Office Mojo.

Tyler Perry found life without drag a drag as his latest comedy-drama, Tyler Perry's Daddy's Little Girls (fifth place, $11.2 million Friday-Sunday; $13.1 million Friday-Monday), turned out to be his weakest box-office performer yet. The movie was the first in which the multitasking Perry, who wrote, directed and produced, did not appear in the granny guise of his signature character, Madea.

Among other openers, the fact-based Breach (sixth place, $10.5 million Friday-Sunday; $12.3 million Friday-Monday) did well on only 1,489 screens, while the French romance Avenue Montaigne ($29,377 Friday-Sunday; $37,677 Friday-Monday) did big business on only two screens.

Elsewhere, Hannibal Rising (seventh place, $6.3 million Friday-Monday; $22.9 million overall) was nearly squeezed out of the Top 10 in only its second weekend.

Here's a rundown of the top 10 films based on final Friday-Monday figures compiled by Exhibitor Relations:

1. Ghost Rider, $52 million
2. Bridge to Terabithia, $28.5 million
3. Norbit, $19.9 million
4. Music and Lyrics, $15.9 million
5. Tyler Perry's Daddy's Little Girls, $13.1 million
6. Breach, $12.3 million
7. Hannibal Rising, $6.3 million
8. Because I Said So, $6.1 million
9. Night at the Museum, $4.9 million
10. The Messengers, $4.3 million

[Originally published Feb. 19, 2007 at 1:58 p.m. PT.]

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