‘Coach Carter’ wins box office tourney

Los Angeles: Samuel L Jackson coached his latest movie to a box-office championship. “Coach Carter,” stars Jackson as a real-life high-school basketball mentor who shuts down the program to focus on his players’ lagging academic education. The film debuted as the top weekend movie with $23.6 million, studio estimates released Sunday show.

The blockbuster comedy “Meet the Fockers,” which had been No. 1 for three straight weekends, slipped to second place with $19 million, lifting its total domestic gross to $230.8 million. The family film “Racing Stripes,” a live-action and computer-animation combo about a talking zebra that yearns to be a racehorse, opened at No. 3 with $14 million.

“In Good Company,” a workplace comic drama starring Dennis Quaid, Topher Grace (news) and Scarlett Johansson, had a strong nationwide debut after two weeks of limited release. The film expanded to 1,566 theaters and came in at No. 4 with $13.9 million, averaging a healthy $8,876 per cinema, compared to $9,350 in 2,524 theaters for “Coach Carter.” Jennifer Garner’s action flick “Elektra,” a spinoff of the Marvel Comics adaptation “Daredevil,” finished fifth with $12.5 million. That was less than a third of the weekend haul for “Daredevil,” which debuted as the No. 1 movie in February 2002.

The acclaimed martial-arts epic “House of Flying Daggers,” from director Zhang Yimou, had a weak nationwide debut after six weeks in narrow release. The film managed just $1.8 million in 1,190 theaters, averaging $1,500. Hollywood continued its robust start to 2005, with revenues rising for the third-straight weekend. The top 12 movies took in $115.7 million, up 23 percent from the same weekend last year.

“This is the right way to start the year, without question,” said Paul Dergarabedian, president of box-office tracker Exhibitor Relations. “These three weekends set the tone for what will hopefully be much improved box office for the year.” — AP