Box Office: Moviegoing Masses Beam Up to K-PAX

On the weekend before Halloween, soulful sci-fi trumped splatter-house shivers in a battle of new releases at the box office.

Neither Jeff Bridges nor Kevin Spacey cashes A-list paychecks, but the duo provided an A-list box-office debut for K-PAX. According to studio estimates compiled by Exhibitor Relations, the outer-space mystery melodrama packed enough of a commercial wallop to rank as the nation's No. 1 movie, despite opening at 240 fewer theaters than second-place finisher 13 Ghosts.

Critical response to K-PAX — the plot pits a beatific mental patient (Spacey) who may be an alien visitor against a skeptical workaholic headshrinker (Bridges) — was mixed. But moviegoers opened their wallets and pulled out a rave review, boosting K-PAX to estimated first-weekend ticket sales of $17.5 million.

Though it had to settle for second-fiddle status overall, Ghosts also scored an impressive opening. Despite minimal marquee muscle (Matthew Lillard, Tony Shalhoub, and Shannon Elizabeth share top billing) and a host of critical brickbats, the ghoulish thriller hauled in approximately $15.7 million.

Last weekend's frontrunners, From Hell ($6.1 million) and Riding in Cars With Boys ($6.0 million), occupied the next two rungs on the box-office ladder. The movie that dominated October's first two weekends, Denzel Washington's Training Day, finished fifth with an estimated $5.11 million gross.

Limited Release = Limited Interest While K-PAX and Ghosts had no trouble finding their audiences, the news was generally grim for the weekend's other new releases: Kevin Kline's Oscar-baiting Life as a House ($294,000) made the most of its 29 theaters, averaging a solid $10,138 per venue. That's good news for New Line, which plans to expand House to theaters nationwide on Nov. 2.

But returns for Bones (847 theaters, $2.95 million) and On the Line (900 sites, $2.3 million) suggest that the films' music-making stars — rapper Snoop Dogg and the 'N Sync dreamboat duo of Lance Bass and Joey Fatone, respectively — would be better off sticking to their day jobs.

The indie domestic drama Donnie Darko, in which a troubled teen heeds the baleful bidding of a bunny man, also met with general disinterest, reaping a mere $108,521 from 58 sites.

The Top 10 films for Oct. 26-28 1. K-PAX, $17.5 million 2. 13 Ghosts, $15.7 million 3. From Hell, $6.1 million 4. Riding in Cars With Boys, $6 million 5. Training Day, $5.11 million 6. Bandits, $5.1 million 7. Serendipity, $3.9 million 8. The Last Castle, $3.7 million 8. Bones, $2.95 million 10. Corky Romano, $2.9 million

Final figures will be released Monday.