The Rock's turn as a father-out-of-water helps the family-friendly comedy triumph over the mostly-R-rated competition, including expected winner ''The Kingdom''

By Joshua Rich
Updated October 01, 2007 at 04:00 AM EDT
Credit: Ron Phillips

Forget about what all the politicians say: You should never underestimate the enduring strength of the American family. Take this weekend at the box office. (Please!) The Rock’s domestic comedy The Game Plan, the only PG-rated movie in the top 10, won a showdown with no fewer than eight R-rated wide-release opponents, with a $22.7 million gross, according to Sunday’s estimates.

In fact, it did so pulling away — Friday’s box office reports showed The Game Plan running neck-and-neck with the war thriller The Kingdom; a mere $245,000 separated the two. But the weekend receipts sealed the deal, as out-of-school kids and their parents took to the multiplex and boosted The Game Plan to an easy win, well above The Kingdom‘s $17.7 mil second-place finish. (Hey, I told you things might’ve played out this way.) But that’s not all that The Rock was cooking in this movie about a football player who must take care of the young daughter he never knew he had. With this big win, the former wrestler may have finally arrived as a financial force to be reckoned with. Discounting his first starring effort, the franchise film The Scorpion King, which wasn’t very dependent on his drawing power, The Game Plan has given The Rock his best opening yet as a lead star, more than $4 mil above the $18.6 mil take for his 2003 action flick, The Rundown. Of course, his real calling in the movies is action, but if he only makes father-out-of-water movies for the rest of his life, this guy’ll be golden.

A slew of holdovers for grownups dominated the rest of the field. Resident Evil: Extinction (No. 3) pretty much died out in theaters, dropping a huge 66 percent to earn a mere $8 mil in its second frame. Good Luck Chuck (No. 4) brought in $6.3 mil on a 54 percent decline. Meanwhile, 3:10 to Yuma (No. 5) continued its steady gallop to paydirt, banking another $4.2 mil; the Western’s four-week total is an increasingly respectable $43.9 mil.

The news was mixed further down the list. Feast of Love (No. 11), the only other major opener, starved with just $1.8 mil. But some smaller-release films enjoyed promising debuts. Wes Anderson’s latest dramedy, The Darjeeling Limited, bowed in two New York theaters and took in a huge $140,000 (math whizzes out there will recognize that as a tremendous $70,000 average). And Ang Lee’s controversial Chinese period piece, Lust, Caution, earned $61,688 in one Manhattan theater — and that’s despite its restrictive NC-17 rating.

All that upbeat art-house news was slightly overshadowed by the fact that, on a decline of nearly 8 percent from the same frame a year ago, this was the second straight ”down” weekend at the box office. Then again, knowing that families got to spend some quality time together bonding over their tubs of popcorn and gallon-sized sugar waters does offer a warm and fuzzy bright side to the whole affair.

And, my goodness, if that still doesn’t brighten your day, here’s something that certainly will:’s famed and fun Box Office Challenge is about to resume play for the fall. Stay tuned this week for details.