JESSICA Chastain overpowered Mark Wahlberg, Arnold Schwarzenegger and others as her low-budget horror flick emerged as the North American weekend box office champ and her Oscar-nominated "Zero Dark Thirty" captured the second spot as well.
Chastain's supernatural thriller, "Mama," pulled in $28.1 million from Friday through Sunday at U.S. and Canadian theatres, according to studio estimates, beating out a crop of new testosterone-fuelled, male-targeted releases that finished far back in the pack.
"Zero Dark Thirty," for which Chastain is a leading best actress Oscar contender, took in $17.6 million, while another late 2012 release and Oscar favourite, "Silver Linings Playbook," finished third with $11.35 million.
"Broken City," a crime thriller starring Wahlberg and Russell Crowe, finished fifth with $9 million behind "Gangster Squad's" $9.1 million, while Schwarzenegger's new action film, "The Last Stand," earned $6.3 million for a dismal 10th place.
"Mama" stars Chastain as a guitarist who doesn't want children but is forced to take care of two orphaned nieces who have been living in the woods. She and her husband try to re-adjust the little girls to normal life. Based on a 2008 short film, the movie was produced for roughly $15 million.
"This is a great result, one we never would have expected especially for a film of this genre," said Nikki Rocco, Universal's president for domestic distribution.
"The timing was perfect," she said, noting "the key was it's a PG-13 movie that appealed to the under-25 female audience."
The studio said it was hopeful that as the only PG-13 film in release this month it would continue to find an audience.
Chastain is a best actress Oscar nominee for her role as a dogged CIA agent in "Zero Dark Thirty," the weekend's second-place film about the decade-long manhunt for Osama bin Laden. The movie has taken in $55.9 million since late December.
"Silver Linings Playbook," an Oscar-nominated romantic comedy about a former mental patient trying to rebuild his life, expanded nationwide for a strong third-place finish and a $55.3 million total since the movie starring Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence opened in late autumn.
Both Oscar contenders handily beat out a pair of new, male-oriented films, as did crime thriller "Gangster Squad."
"The Last Stand" features Schwarzenegger's return to a starring, big-screen role after a seven-year break while he was serving as governor of California, but managed only $6.3 million to finish 10th. The former "Terminator" will star in three movies over the next 12 months.
Schwarzenegger plays a retired Los Angeles policeman who works to protect a tiny border town from a notorious drug kingpin. The film was produced for about $45 million.
The studio noted that the weekend was crowded with several movie-going choices, and that two films were competing for the same audience, referring to the weekend's other new movie, "Broken City," which stars Wahlberg as a former New York cop who uncovers a scandal involving the mayor, played by Russell Crowe.
The top 10 movies were rounded out by "A Haunted House," "Django Unchained," "Les Miserables" and "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey." Reuters