‘Elf’ takes weekend box office

LOS ANGELES – Will Ferrell’s “Elf” scuttled Russell Crowe’s “Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World” to finish as the weekend’s No. 1 movie.

“Elf,” about a man-child raised by Santa’s helpers at the North Pole, took in $27.2 million, off just 12 percent from its second-place debut the previous weekend, according to studio estimates Sunday.

“Master and Commander,” a Napoleonic-era naval adventure based on Patrick O’Brian’s novels about an intrepid British captain, debuted a close second with $25.7 million.

“It just goes to show you, a sugar diet is better than what they eat on those ships,” said David Tuckerman, head of distribution for New Line, which released “Elf.” “We have a movie that’s playing from 8 to 80. It’s a sweet, family movie, and Will Ferrell does a spectacular job.”

Audiences jumped ship on the previous weekend’s No. 1 movie, “The Matrix Revolutions,” which took the No. 3 position at $16.3 million, down a steep 66 percent from its debut.

“Looney Tunes: Back in Action” opened at No. 5 with $9.5 million. The movie stars Brendan Fraser, Jenna Elfman and Steve Martin alongside Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck and other cartoon characters.

In narrower release, “Tupac: Resurrection,” a documentary about the slain rapper, premiered with $4.7 million to finish at No. 9.

Overall box office receipts fell with the top 12 movies grossing $124.2 million, down 23 percent from the same weekend last year, when “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets” debuted with $88.4 million.

“Elf” lifted its 10-day total to $71.3 million. It will face stiff competition with this week’s debut of “Dr. Seuss’ the Cat in the Hat,” but should get a solid bump in business over Thanksgiving weekend and play solidly through Christmas.

“Releasing it very early in the season was a smart move, because it’s just building steam heading toward the two big holidays of the season,” said Paul Dergarabedian, president of box-office tracker Exhibitor Relations.

“Master and Commander” surpassed the expectations of distributor 20th Century Fox. Bruce Snyder, the studio’s head of distribution, had figured the movie would come in a bit under $20 million for opening weekend.

“It’s an amazing number for an adult movie,” Snyder said. “We can’t be disappointed at not being No. 1. ‘Elf’ is a very different movie.”

“Matrix Revolutions,” the final chapter in the Wachowski brothers’ sci-fi trilogy, pushed its 12-day domestic gross to $114.2 million. By comparison, “The Matrix Reloaded” took $275 million in 10 weeks last spring and topped out at $281.5 million domestically.

Worldwide, however, the “Matrix Revolutions” had climbed to about $310 million in less than two weeks, noted distributor Warner Bros.

Estimated ticket sales for Friday through Sunday at North American theaters, according to Exhibitor Relations Co. Inc. Final figures will be released today.

1. “Elf,” $27.2 million.

2. “Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World,” $25.7 million.

3. “The Matrix Revolutions,” $16.3 million.

4. “Brother Bear,” $12 million.

5. “Looney Tunes: Back in Action,” $9.5 million.

6. “Love Actually,” $8.9 million.

7. “Scary Movie 3,” $6.1 million.

8. “Radio,” $5 million.

9. “Tupac: Resurrection,” $4.7 million.

10. “Mystic River,” $3.3 million.