LOS ANGELES (AP) – The Eminem show has conquered movie theaters.
“8 Mile,” the rapper’s semi-autobiographical movie debut, took in $54.5 million in its first weekend – the sort of success that eludes most pop stars when they try to cross over to film.
It was the second-best opening ever for an R-rated film behind “Hannibal,” which debuted last year with $58 million.
The big debut and strong results for holdover films lifted the overall box office. The top 12 movies grossed $133.8 million, up 15 percent over the same weekend last year.
In “8 Mile,” Eminem plays a young white singer struggling in the black-dominated hip-hop scene of Detroit’s bleak Eight Mile area, where Eminem grew up.
“8 Mile” bumped last weekend’s No. 1 movie, “The Santa Clause 2,” into second place with $24.8 million, according to studio estimates Sunday.
The triumph of “8 Mile” follows the No. 1 debut of the film’s soundtrack this month and the chart-topping success of the singer’s latest album, “The Eminem Show.”
The movie’s huge opening indicates Eminem has gained more mainstream acceptance after critics branded him a homophobe and misogynist for violent, obscenity-laced lyrics on his previous best-selling records.
Universal, which distributed the movie, said women made up 53 percent of the audience. And while 69 percent of the audience was younger than 25, a fair number of older adults showed up, the studio said.
“A lot more parents are interested in it than I would have thought,” said Nikki Rocco, Universal’s head of distribution. “In my neighborhood, we went to a theater nearby and quite frankly, I saw parents in their 40s and 50s going to see the film with their teens.”
Results for “8 Mile” far exceeded the studio’s expectations. As late as Friday morning, Rocco said she had been hoping for an opening-weekend gross of $25 million to $30 million.
“Eminem’s on top of the world,” said Paul Dergarabedian, president of box-office tracker Exhibitor Relations. “Right now, he’s just the hottest thing going.”
Playing in a relatively modest 2,470 theaters, “8 Mile” averaged a whopping $22,050 a cinema.
The weekend’s only other new wide release, Brian De Palma’s crime thriller “Femme Fatale,” opened weakly at No. 9 with $2.8 million, averaging $2,655 in 1,066 theaters.
Todd Haynes’ 1950s-era melodrama “Far From Heaven,” starring Julianne Moore and Dennis Quaid, opened big in limited release. The film grossed $207,000 in six theaters for an impressive $34,518 average.
Unlike many singers aiming for big-screen success, Eminem benefited from a collaboration with top-notch filmmakers. Directed by Curtis Hanson (“L.A. Confidential,” “Wonder Boys”) and produced by Brian Grazer (an Academy Award winner for last year’s “A Beautiful Mind”), “8 Mile” earned solid overall reviews and good notices for Eminem and his co-stars, including Kim Basinger.
Singers such as Ice Cube and LL Cool J have done well on film but often in ensemble or supporting roles. Madonna has had a fitful film career, including the major flops “Shanghai Surprise” and this fall’s “Swept Away.” Britney Spears’ “Crossroads” was a minor success last spring.
Mariah Carey had perhaps the most notable bomb among pop-star flicks with last year’s “Glitter.”
“Typically, expectations are extremely low for this kind of movie. People go, `Oh, another pop star in a movie,”’ Dergarabedian said. “`8 Mile’ raises the standard for pop stars in terms of what is possible in a movie if the filmmaking pedigree is there.”