LOS ANGELES • Marshall, a historical drama about the early life of the first black United States Supreme Court justice, kicked off the season when studios start to highlight smaller movies seen as Oscar contenders.
The film, debuting in limited release in 821 cinemas, collected about US$3 million (S$4 million) in North America, ComScore estimated.
Also of note: Happy Death Day, the latest microbudget movie from Blumhouse Productions, Hollywood's top horror factory that is behind runaway original hits such as Get Out (2017), arrived at No. 1 with a strong US$26.5 million in ticket sales.
In keeping with the Blumhouse model - find gifted but undervalued directors, give them little money but lots of creative control - Happy Death Day cost about US$4.5 million to make and was directed by Christopher Landon. It received mostly positive reviews, amounting to a comeback for Landon, who wrote most of the Paranormal Activity films, but had a misfire as a director in 2015 with Scouts Guide To The Zombie Apocalypse.
A horror comedy that mixes hints of the Scream movies with Groundhog Day-style repetition, Happy Death Day stars Jessica Rothe as a college student who relives her murder every day until she solves the crime.
It managed to turn out younger audiences. Universal, which distributed the film, said 63 per cent of ticket buyers were younger than 25.
But younger audiences continued to stay away from Blade Runner 2049, the science-fiction sequel that was a limp second in its second weekend with about US$15.1 million.
The Foreigner, an action thriller starring Jackie Chan, arrived in third place, with about US$12.8 million in ticket sales. Chan plays a a businessman seeking justice after his daughter is killed in a terrorist act.
STXfilms, the upstart studio behind the film, noted that The Foreigner has already made US$88 million overseas.
The movie, which cost STX and Chinese partners about US$35 million to make, has a rare distinction: The Chinese government certified it as a "co-production", meaning that STX will get a larger share of ticket sales from Chinese cinemas than is typical for US studios.
The weekend was expected to be one of the smaller theatrical draws of the year, as studios focus on awards-bait movies rather than big-budget franchise offerings.
The highlights of the quarter in terms of ticket sales are expected to be next month's Justice League and Thor superhero films, and December's Star Wars movie.
Until then, most weekends are peppered with smaller films which producers hope will win prizes from industry groups.
Marshall, which stars Chadwick Boseman as the young Thurgood Marshall, matched the forecast of Box Office Mojo. It is based on an early trial in his career as a lawyer.
The movie is listed as a potential Oscar contender at the awards news site GoldDerby and has an 86 per cent positive rating at the movie review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes.
The film, which cost US$12 million to make, placed 11th at the box office.