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Prerelease tracking had suggested the male-fueled threequel would open north of $20 million, although Universal was more conservative in its estimate. The first film in the series, Pitch Black, opened to $11.6 million in February 2000, while The Chronicles of Riddick debuted to notably more in June 2004, earning $24.3 million in its debut.
Diesel now owns the rights to the Riddick character, an intergalactic ex-con who can see in the dark. Riddick was independently financed for $38 million, with Universal picking up U.S. distribution rights. The studio also released the first two films in the franchise.
The weekend after Labor Day is always sluggish in terms of moviegoing. Riddick helped drive revenue up 24 percent over the same weekend a year ago. And Imax theaters saw big returns, contributing $2.5 million of the total gross from 314 locations. Males and Hispanics made up a large percentage of the overall audience (59 percent and 37 percent, respectively).
"Face it, this is never a great weekend. I was hoping Riddick would get to $20 million, but this is a great result," said Universal's distribution chief Nikki Rocco.
In the latest outing, Riddick is left for dead on a hostile planet and grows ever stronger as he fights off his enemies. The movie also stars Jordi Molla, Matt Nable, Katee Sackhoff, Dave Bautista, Bokeem Woodbine, Raoul Trujillo, Nolan Gerard Funk and Karl Urban.
Riddick opens in 22 international markets this weekend, including the U.K. and Hong Kong.
Lee Daniels' The Butler continues to do strong business as it heads into its fourth outing, coming in No. 2 and grossing $8.9 million. The historical drama, released by The Weinstein Co. and starring Forest Whitaker and Oprah Winfrey, has now earned $91.9 million in North America.
New Line's R-rated comedy We're the Millers continued to chug along, coming in No. 3 with $7.9 million and pushing its total to $123.8 million.
Spanish-language film Instructions Not Included grossed $8.1 million as it expanded into more than 700 theaters. From Pantelion and Lionsgate, the comedy has now earned a strong $20.3 million.
At the specialty box office, TWC's Salinger opened to a strong $90,969 from four theaters in New York and Los Angeles for a location average of $22,742 -- the best since The Bully nearly 18 months ago. Bully, likewise released by TWC, opened to $116,472 from six theaters for a location average of $23,294.
Directed by Shane Salerno, Salinger was likely boosted by its high-profile premiere over Labor Day weekend at the Telluride Film Festival.