LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Less than a year after starring in the biggest movie of his volatile career, Nicolas Cage led the North American box office to its worst weekend in five years on Sunday with one of his weakest.
"Bangkok Dangerous," a thriller in which the 44-year-old actor plays a jaded assassin, opened at No. 1 with estimated three-day earnings of just $7.8 million, distributor Lionsgate said. While no one was expecting it to be a hit, industry observers had predicted it would earn more than $10 million.
The last box office champ to open lower was the David Spade comedy "Dickie Roberts: Former Child Star," which kicked off with $6.7 million during the weekend of September 5-7, 2003.
Overall ticket sales also fell to their lowest level since then, said tracking firm Media By Numbers. The top 12 films earned $51.6 million, up from $50.5 million that weekend.
Early September is traditionally a quiet time at the box office since the summer blockbuster season is over. The studios spend the early fall quietly dumping their underperforming movies on the market. "Bangkok Dangerous" was the only new wide release this weekend.
Lionsgate, a unit of Lions Gate Entertainment Corp, said it was happy with the film's opening and expected it to be profitable. Although the movie reportedly cost $45 million to make, Lionsgate acquired U.S. and Canadian rights for a modest sum from "The Departed" producer Graham King's Initial Entertainment Group.
The film is a remake of the 1999 Thai film of the same name, with both being directed by Hong Kong-born twin brothers Danny and Oxide Pang. The remake was not screened in advance for critics, which is rarely a good sign.
Cage has actually done a lot worse at the box office: His terrorism thriller "Next" opened to $7.1 million in April 2007 and the family drama "The Weather Man" to $4.2 million in 2005. But he was last in theaters with the biggest movie of his career, "National Treasure: Book of Secrets," The action sequel opened to $45 million in December on its way to $220 million.
After three weeks at No. 1, DreamWorks/Paramount's Hollywood satire "Tropic Thunder" slipped to No. 2 with $7.5 million, while Columbia Pictures' comedy "The House Bunny" rose one to No. 3 with $5.9 million in its third week. Their respective tallies stand at $97 million and $37 million.
DreamWorks Pictures and Paramount Pictures are units of Viacom Inc. Columbia Pictures is a unit of Sony Corp.
Reporting by Dean Goodman; editing by Cynthia Osterman