LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - He shoots. He ... misses.
Will Ferrell stumbled at the North American box office on Sunday with his latest sports comedy, "Semi-Pro."
The basketball spoof narrowly took the No. 1 spot with disappointing ticket sales of $15.3 million, its struggling distributor New Line Cinema said.
Industry observers had expected the movie to open above $20 million. It falls well short of the $33 million debut of Ferrell's 2007 ice-skating comedy "Blades of Glory" and the $47 million bow of his 2006 NASCAR outing "Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby."
"Semi-Pro," which cost $57 million to make, stars Ferrell as the flamboyant owner of a fictional underdog team in the American Basketball Association, the renegade league taken over by the National Basketball Association in the 1970s.
New Line, also a renegade studio in its heyday, faces a similar fate. Its Time Warner Inc parent announced on Thursday that the 40-year-old studio would be absorbed by its bigger corporate sibling, Warner Bros. Pictures, after a string of costly duds, most recently "The Golden Compass."
A New Line official was not available for comment.
Observers said "Semi-Pro" was hurt by a restrictive "R" rating, which requires viewers under 17 to be accompanied by an adult. "Blades of Glory" and "Talladega Nights" both carried a teen-friendly PG-13 rating. "Semi-Pro" marked the feature directing debut of Kent Alterman, a former New Line executive.
Last weekend's champion, the political thriller "Vantage Point" starring Dennis Quaid, slipped to No. 2 with $13 million. The 10-day total for the Columbia Pictures release rose to $41 million.
Paramount Pictures' children's book adaptation "The Spiderwick Chronicles" fell one place to No. 3 with $8.8 million, giving it a three-week haul of $55.1 million.
"The Other Boleyn Girl," a bodice-ripper set in 16th century England, opened at No. 4 with $8.3 million, at the high end of Columbia's expectations. Scarlett Johansson plays the title character, Mary Boleyn, and Natalie Portman her ill-fated older sister, Anne. Both are seduced by Henry VIII, with disastrous consequences. Women accounted for almost three-quarters of the audience, the studio said.
The $35 million royal romp averaged $7,118 from 1,166 theaters, the highest score in the top 10. The top three movies played in about three times as many theaters.
The only other new release in the top 10 also targeted women. "Penelope," a teen fable starring Christina Ricci as a young woman with a pig's nose, earned just $4 million from 1,196 theaters. It tied at No. 8 with "No Country For Old Men," last Sunday's best picture Oscar winner.
"Penelope," produced by Reese Witherspoon, was originally set for release last April by IFC Films. Privately held Summit Entertainment LLC eventually acquired the distribution rights.
"No Country" enjoyed a 67 percent boost in sales after winning four Oscars. The violent drama has earned $69.6 million after 17 weeks. Miramax added 936 theaters, boosting its tally to 2,037.
Columbia Pictures is a unit of Sony Corp. Paramount Pictures is a unit of Viacom Inc. Miramax is a unit Walt Disney Co.
Editing by David Wiessler