Stephen King thriller checks in at No. 2

“Evan Almighty” floated the boat of enough moviegoers to take the No. 1 slot at the box office, but it’s an ocean or two behind its predecessor.

Universal’s contempo comedic take on the Noah’s Ark tale starring Steve Carell, washed ashore with $32.1 million, far short of the $68 million brought in by 2003’s predecessor “Bruce Almighty.” Earlier pic starred Jim Carrey.

MGM and Weinstein Co. pic “1408” checked in as a surprise No. 2 as the Stephen King adaptation took $20.1 million, just edging out “Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer” in that franchise pic’s second frame.

After the summer got off to a torrid start last month, weekend was the fourth straight in which the domestic B.O. did not match the same frame a year ago: Box office for the top 10 combined was $122.6 million, according to Rentrak, vs. $124.7 million a year ago, when Adam Sandler’s “Click” led the field.

Meanwhile, “Evan Almighty” sailed to a per-location average of $8,910 from 3,604 theaters. Pic was Carell’s biggest starring vehicle opener yet, according to Nielsen EDI, surpassing the $21.4 million opening for “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” in 2005. That pic went on to hit about $109.4 million.

U brass said they were encouraged by exit polls for “Evan Almighty” and were hoping auds would discover the laffer in later frames.

In a summer of highly anticipated sequels, “Evan” is one of the first big-budget tentpoles to turn in lackluster numbers in its debut after most have bowed to record-breaking numbers or at least stayed close to their predecessors’ preems.

The PG-13 rated “1408,” a paranormal thriller starring John Cusack, arrived in theaters to solid notices, but tracking as of Thursday had suggested the movie would hit in the teen millions and no further.

However, the pic attracted a large female audience — comprising 53% of its ticket buyers — over the frame. That helped it draw the biggest opening for a Stephen King lit adaptation to date.

Among other new openers, Paramount Vantage’s politically charged “A Mighty Heart,” starring Angelina Jolie, made the No. 10 spot with $4 million off 1,355 locations in North America.

That translated intoonly $2,956 per theater for the pic by Michael Winterbottom after Paramount Vantage made an aggressive play at a time when specialty films have been delivering in limited platform release patterns.

Rest of the chart was dominated by holdovers, with Fox’s Marvel sequel “Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer” slipping 65% from its first weekend, raising cume after two frames to $97.6 million. First pic in the series hit $154.6 million domestically.

Fox said that the pic’s drop was expected after a bigger opening than had been predicted as the best Father’s Day bow of all time.

Warner Bros.’ “Ocean’s Thirteen” dropped another 42% to take cume up to $91 million after three weekends in release. Pic has now sailed past the domestic B.O. of “Ocean’s Twelve,” which rolled to $86.6 million at the same point in its release.

U’s “Knocked Up” held steady, dropping under 25% and taking cume up to nearly $109 million. Pic is the eighth of the year to surpass $100 million.

Other notable mark this weekend went to DreamWorks Animation’s “Shrek the Third,” which crossed the $300 million mark over the frame.

Disney’s latest “Pirates of the Caribbean” pic took the No. 6 slot in its fifth frame.

Warner Bros.’ “Nancy Drew” slid just 34% after a soft opening. Pic has clued in $16.1 million after two frames.

Interestingly, “1408” succeeded while hard R-rated horror has been struggling of late: Lionsgate’s “Hotel Part II” arrived this summer only to slide off the top 10 charts in three weekends.

Bob Weinstein said that the pic’s perf proves that horror is not a monolithic genre. “There are 100 subgenres for every genre,” he said. For comedies, there are 50 kinds. And this is like a classic Stephen King movie.”

MGM distribution head Clark Woods added that the PG-13 rating drew a wider swath of auds to the pic, and that a release date change — away from July 13 to bow before “Transformers” — paid off as well.

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