LOS ANGELES -- The Rock smacked down the competition with his action comedy "The Rundown," which debuted as the weekend's top movie by earning $18.5 million.
Diane Lane's romance "Under the Tuscan Sun" opened in second place with $9.41 million, according to studio estimates Sunday. It edged last weekend's No. 1 movie, "Underworld," which slipped to third with $9.4 million.
Playing in far narrower release, "Under the Tuscan Sun" outdid "The Rundown" on a theater-by-theater basis. "The Rundown" averaged $5,869 in 3,152 cinemas, while "Under the Tuscan Sun" averaged $7,672 in 1,226 theaters.
In "The Rundown," wrestler-turned-actor The Rock plays a hired strongman trying to bring home his employer's son (Seann William Scott) from a treasure hunt in the Amazon.
"The Rundown" managed barely half the business as The Rock's "The Scorpion King" -- his debut in a lead role -- did on opening weekend last year.
"The Scorpion King" was a spinoff of "The Mummy" franchise, so audiences packed theaters as though it were a sequel, said Nikki Rocco, head of distribution for Universal Pictures, which released "The Rundown" and "The Scorpion King."
"We're a culture where if your movie doesn't have a $50 million opening, you're defending it. But not every movie can open to $50 million," Rocco said.
"The Rundown" played to a broad demographic, boosting its prospects for a long life at theaters, Rocco said. Audiences were almost evenly split between those older and younger than 25, while nonwhite movie-goers accounted for 54 percent of the crowds, the studio reported.
Women accounted for 65 percent of the audience for "Under the Tuscan Sun," said Chuck Viane, head of distribution for Disney, which released the movie. It also proved a solid date flick, with couples making up most of the crowds for the early evening shows Friday and Saturday, Viane said.
The movie is based on Frances Mayes' memoir about moving from San Francisco to start a new life renovating a villa in Italy.
"This is the kind of season where couples really love to go the movies and take the time to enjoy something like this," Viane said.
Estimated ticket sales for Friday through Sunday at North American theaters, according to Exhibitor Relations Co. Inc. Final figures will be released Monday.
1. "The Rundown," $18.5 million.
2. "Under the Tuscan Sun," $9.41 million.
3. "Underworld," $9.4 million.
4. "Secondhand Lions," $8.25 million.
5. "The Fighting Temptations," $6.5 million.
6. "Once Upon a Time in Mexico," $5.1 million.
7. "Duplex," $4.4 million.
8. "Cold Creek Manor," $4.3 million.
9. "Matchstick Men," $4.29 million.
10. "Lost in Translation," $3.5 million.