But 'Cars' beats rookie to finish line

In a come-from-behind victory, Pixar and Disney’s “Cars” managed to hold the top spot with $31.2 million despite a heavy drop for the CG toon and stronger-than-expected competish from Paramount’s “Nacho Libre,” which bowed in second place.

After Friday’s shows, “Cars” actually trailed both “Nacho” and Universal’s “The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift,” but a strong Saturday for “Cars” pushed the Pixar toon to the top of the pack.

Its soph-sesh take of $31.2 million reps a 48% drop from its opening. The last Pixar pic to post such a steep second-weekend drop was 1999’s “Toy Story 2,” which sank 52% after an opening inflated by the Thanksgiving holiday.

With a cume of $114.5 million, “Cars” is the 50th film to cross the $100 million mark for Disney, a Hollywood studio record.

Par’s Jack Black starrer “Nacho” grossed $27.5 million from 3,070 locations, while “The Fast and the Furious” sequel took in $24.1 million from 3,027 venues.

Also bowing ahead of expectations was Warners’ Keanu Reeves-Sandra Bullock supernatural romancer “The Lake House,” which took in $13.7 million from 2,645 theaters, good for the No. 4 spot. Rounding out the top five was Universal’s “The Break-Up” with $9.5 million in its third frame, down 53%. The Vince Vaughn-Jennifer Aniston romantic comedy has cumed $91.9 million so far.

The frame’s other fresh title was 20th Century Fox’s “Garfield: A Tale of Two Kitties,” which bowed in sixth place with $7.2 million.

Among the holdovers, Fox’s “X-Men: The Last Stand” was in seventh with $7.15 million in its fourth frame, raising cume to $215.5 million, which makes it the biggest-grossing pic in the “X-Men” series. The first in the comicbook franchise grossed $157 million, while “X2″ took in just shy of $215 million. Weekend perf also makes “The Last Stand” the top-grossing film so far in 2006.

Fox’s remake of “The Omen” dropped to No. 8 in its second weekend with $5.4 million, which reps a 67% drop. At No. 9 was Sony’s “The Da Vinci Code,” which took in $5 million in its fifth frame, lifting cume to $198.5 million. Rounding out the top 10 was DreamWorks Animation’s “Over the Hedge,” which took in $4 million, boosting cume to $138.8 million.

While tracking showed aud interest in “Nacho” heavily skewed to young males, Par’s exit polls found the opening-weekend aud was much more balanced, with 53% of the aud male and 55% under 25. Pic set a career best for Black in a toplining role, surpassing 2001’s “Shallow Hal,” which opened with $22.5 million.

“We’re very happy with how broad it ended up,” said Par prexy Rob Moore. “Ultimately, it felt fresh. When you look at what else is out there, this movie looks different.”

While tracking showed “Nacho” and “Tokyo Drift” were essentially going after the same demos, U was pleased with the strength of its third “Fast and Furious” pic. According to the studio, pic carried a $75 million budget.

Universal said exit polling showed the pic skewing young and male, with 60% of the aud under 25 and 58% male. But perhaps more telling, exit surveys showed the percentage of people who had seen the first two “Fast and Furious” pics was more than 90%, indicating to U that the franchise still has steam.

“The franchise works really well, particularly in the ancillary markets,” said distribution prexy Nikki Rocco. “Whatever the outcome is, it’s smart to keep the franchise alive.”

Though better than tracking had indicated, “Tokyo Drift” opened to less than half the biz of 2003’s “2 Fast 2 Furious.”

Warners distrib prexy Dan Fellman said “Lake House’s” opening was well within the range for other summer pics that target femmes (according to exit polls, aud was 73% female), pointing to the $12.8 million bow for last year’s “Must Love Dogs” and the $13.4 million bow for New Line’s “The Notebook” in 2004. (Those two pics ultimately had far different fates: “Must Love Dogs” finished out with $44 million, while “Notebook” had a leggy run that cumed $81 million.)

The second “Garfield” pic bowed to a third of the original’s $21.7 million debut. Fox distrib senior VP Bert Livingston said the sequel was made primarily for the foreign market after the original grossed $123 million, well ahead of its domestic take of $75 million.

The healthy frame repped a 7% gain over the same weekend last year, with Nielsen EDI estimating overall box office at $145 million. But despite that improvement, the total summer gross actually dropped behind 2005 over the frame, with summer 2006 grosses at $1.19 billion compared with $1.34 billion in 2005. The difference, according to EDI, was the $24 million “Batman Begins” took in this time last year after its Wednesday bow and before the weekend.

In the specialty market, Al Gore’s global-warming doc “An Inconvenient Truth” seemed to have trouble expanding as it took in $1.7 million from 404 screens, according to Par Vantage. Last week, playing just 122 screens, doc took in $1.5 million, which landed it in the top 10. Screen average of $4,331 this weekend is off significantly from its $12,333 average last frame. Doc now has a cume of $6.4 million.

Meanwhile, Picturehouse’s “A Prairie Home Companion” grossed $2.6 million in its soph sesh, averaging $3,407 on its 767 screens. That puts cume on Robert Altman’s latest at $8.8 million.

Among the new releases, IFC and the Weinstein Co.’s “Wordplay” opened to sold-out shows in two Gotham bookings, grossing $34,959 for the frame and a stout $17,479 average.

Also opening was ThinkFilm’s “Loverboy,” which took in $14,700 from four screens, an average of $3,675 per.

Lionsgate’s “Peaceful Warrior” took in $32,000 from nine screens in its third weekend, averaging $3,556 per screen. That pushes cume to $219,870.

And Miramax’s “The Heart of the Game” grossed $36,000 in its second weekend from 11 screens, giving it a per-screen average of $3,234 and lifting cume to $59,000.

Follow @Variety on Twitter for breaking news, reviews and more