LOS ANGELES • Superstar Denzel Washington had never made a sequel in a career reaching back nearly four decades, but when he did, with the Sony/Columbia production of The Equalizer 2, it opened at the top of the North American box office.
With estimated ticket sales of US$35.8 million (S$48.7 million) for the three-day weekend, Equalizer edged out another sequel, star-studded Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again, according to industry tracker Exhibitor Relations.
In his new film, Washington again plays a former black-ops agent-turned-vigilante who is drawn back into action to avenge a friend's death.
The character Robert McCall was made famous by the late British actor Edward Woodward, who played him on 1980s television as a cross between Jack Reacher and a mildly irritated actuary.
Washington took over the part in director Antoine Fuqua's big screen version in 2014 and reprises the role in the sequel.
Incredibly, this is the first sequel ever undertaken by Washington or Fuqua, who have made a combined 60 movies - four together - over four decades.
Fuqua also made Training Day, which earned Washington a Best Actor Oscar nod in 2002.
"When I did 'one', I didn't think about 'two' because I think you would fall into a dark hole. You never know you're going to get a chance again and you've got to leave it all on the field," Fuqua said.
"I just gave it all I had on the first one and that's that movie. When it came up about 'two', I said, 'Let me read it to see - if you didn't know anything about (number) one and this was a movie on its own, would it hold up?' And it did."
In The Equalizer 2, McCall's past catches up with him and he ends up in a deadly game of cat and mouse, pitted against an adversary he was least expecting.
For Fuqua, part of the franchise's appeal lies in its repurposing of the ancient mythology of the "dark angel" meting out brutal justice for the downtrodden in a world that usually denies them the privilege.
The film's supporting cast includes Bill Pullman, Melissa Leo and Ashton Sanders, the 22-year-old rising star who won acclaim for his performance as the teenage Chiron in last year's Best Picture Oscar winner Moonlight.
Industry watchers had expected Universal's Mamma Mia! to open atop the box office, but its ticket sales of US$34.4 million were "by no means a disappointment" at 22 per cent above the original film's opening, according to Hollywood Reporter.
In third spot was Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation from Sony, which took in US$23.2 million.
Slipping from second last week to fourth was Ant-Man And The Wasp, the 20th release in Disney's Marvel Cinematic Universe, at US$16.1 million.
In fifth place, also from Disney, was Incredibles 2, at US$11.5 million, which earlier in the month pushed past Pixar stablemate Finding Dory as the top-grossing animated film of all time.