‘Madagascar’ Knocks ‘Sith’ Off The Top Of The Box-Office Heap

Two Chris Rock films push 'Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith' down to #3.

Animal instincts prevailed this week as a quartet of cartoon zoo residents leapt to the #1 spot at the box office.

In its second week in theaters, “Madagascar” rose from the #3 spot to the #1 spot on the box-office top 10 with $28.7 million, according to early estimates. The animated family flick centers on four best friends — a lion, a zebra, a giraffe and a pregnant hippo (voiced by Ben Stiller, Chris Rock, David Schwimmer and Jada Pinkett Smith, respectively) — who are the most popular attractions at the Central Park Zoo. When one of the group goes mysteriously missing, the other three set out to find their friend — only to find themselves on a boat that strands them on the shores of Madagascar, forcing them to learn how to live in the wild (see ” ‘Madagascar’ Stars Rock, Stiller Mull Cartoon Dream Roles” ).

“The Longest Yard” was held captive at #2 for a second week with $26.1 million. In the Adam Sandler-led comedy, a pro quarterback doing time in prison is told to whip his fellow inmates into shape to take on the prison guards in a football game (see “Nelly’s Hollywood Blitz”). Though the game is supposed to be fixed, with the guards slated to win, Sandler’s character hopes to turn it around with help from Nelly and Chris Rock, among others.

As moviegoers veered away from the dark side and sought out lighter fare, “Star Wars: Episode III — Revenge of the Sith,” dropped out of the #1 spot it held for two weeks and fell to #3. The third and final installment in the “Star Wars” prequel series began its descent to a spot far, far away from #1, earning $26 million.

With strong contenders holding on tightly to the first three notches of top 10, this week’s three major new releases had to settle for slots four, five and six.

First up is the Russell Crowe-led “Cinderella Man,” about a man who tries his hand at boxing to earn some extra cash and help his family survive the Depression (see “‘Dogtown’ Z-Boys Soar, ‘Cinderella Man’ Delivers Knockout Punch, By Kurt Loder” ). In the film, James Braddock (Crowe) rises to fame in the ring; in reality, “Cinderella Man” debuted at a mediocre #4, with just over $18.6 million.

Some people write letters to keep in touch, but for the four female leads in “The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants,” denim is mightier than ink. In the chick flick, based on the Ann Brashares novel of the same name, four best friends find a pair of jeans that fits each of them, and decide to keep their bond strong while they are separated, by sharing the trousers. Moviegoers helped “The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants” fit into the #5 spot with more than $10.2 million.

This week’s third new release, “Lords of Dogtown,” opened well although it was screened in a relatively small number of theaters compared to “Cinderella Man” and “Sisterhood.” The movie, which takes place in the 1970s, focuses on a group of surfers called the Z-Boys, who create a new and extreme style of skateboarding (see “Training For ‘Lords Of Dogtown’: ‘I Was Walking With A Limp For A Month’ “ ). Their innovative moves send them hurtling toward major fame — and sent the film about their lives straight to the #6 spot with $5.7 million.

Rounding out this week’s top 10 are “Monster-in-Law,” which falls from #4 to #7 with $5.3 million; “Crash,” which drops from #6 to #8 with $3.3 million; “Kicking & Screaming,” which tumbles from #5 to #9 with more than $2.1 million; and “Unleashed,” which slips from #8 to #10 with $890,000.

Overall, ticket sales were down from the corresponding weekend last year, marking the 15th straight week that numbers were down from 2004.

Next week, look for “Mr. and Mrs. Smith” and “The Honeymooners” to debut in the top 10.

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