Satan's bounty hunter has looted the wallets of moviegoers.
"Ghost Rider," Sony's comic-book adaptation starring Nicolas Cage as a motorcycle stunt driver moonlighting as a collector of evil souls for the devil, debuted as the top weekend movie with $44.5 million, according to studio estimates Sunday.
Debuting in second place with $22.1 million was Disney's "Bridge to Terabithia," based on the children's novel about a boy and girl who create an elaborate fantasyland to escape from the troubles of the real world.
The movies bumped off the previous weekend's No. 1 flick, DreamWorks' Eddie Murphy comedy "Norbit," which slipped to third place with $16.8 million, lifting its total to $58.9 million.
Premiering at No. 4 with $14 million was the Warner Bros. romance "Music and Lyrics," starring Hugh Grant as a washed-up pop singer and Drew Barrymore as his unlikely songwriting partner.
The Lionsgate romance "Tyler Perry's Daddy's Little Girls" opened in fifth place with $12.1 million, a sharp drop from filmmaker Perry's February releases the last two years, 2006's "Madea's Family Reunion," which premiered with $30 million, and 2005's "Diary of a Mad Black Woman," which debuted with $21.9 million.
Universal's spy thriller "Breach" debuted at No. 6 with $10.4 million. It stars Chris Cooper as Robert Hanssen, the FBI man caught in 2001 for selling secrets to Russia, and Ryan Phillippe as a young bureau operative who helps bring him down.
Though trashed by critics, "Ghost Rider" helped pull Hollywood out of its box-office doldrums, with overall revenues rising for the first time in six weekends. The top 12 movies took in $141.4 million, up 28 percent from the same weekend last year.
"This is the weekend that could turn the tide and get us going in the right direction," said Paul Dergarabedian, president of box-office tracker Media By Numbers.
Based on the Marvel Comic books, "Ghost Rider" delivered Hollywood's biggest opening so far this year, topping the $34.2 million debut for "Norbit." "Ghost Rider" was the best opening weekend ever for Cage, beating the $35.1 million debut of "National Treasure."
"Ghost Rider" also extended Hollywood's winning streak with comic-book adaptations, a genre some critics have said would eventually play itself out.
"I think as long as stories are being told in a way that audiences embrace them, you can go for a long, long, long, long time," Bruer said.
Coming this summer are two big comic-book sequels, Sony's "Spider-Man 3" and 20th Century Fox's "Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer."