The sweeping Japanese epic, starring Tom Cruise, debut at No. 1, taking the top honors with a reasonable $24.4 million*.
Still, the figure wasn't quite what Cruise is used to getting with his opening films. Samurai failed to match the box office king's previous blockbusters including Minority Report, which opened in 2002 with $35.6 million, and Mission: Impossible 2, with a whopping $57.8 million in 2000.
"Considering what we faced on the East Coast, we're very, very pleased," Dan Fellman, president of distribution at Warner Bros. Pictures told Reuters, referring to the bad weather in that area, which dumped more than a foot of snow, closed airports and left thousands without power.
Samurai was followed by another newcomer, the hip-hoppin' Honey, which premiered in second with $14 million, while The Haunted Mansion, which almost took the top spot last week, came in third place with $9.5 million.
The re-release of The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, the first installment of the J.R.R. Tolkien trilogy, did well this week in a limited run in 126 theaters, earning a total of $431,000. Next week, the second installment The Two Towers will get a similar re-release, as fans gear up for the "Tuesday Trilogy" Dec. 16, with the first two installments playing back-to-back, leading into the opening of the third and final The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King at midnight Dec. 17.
THE TOP TEN
Warner Bros.' R-rated The Last Samurai debuting at No. 1 with an ESTIMATED $24.4 million in 2,908 theaters. Its $8,399 per theater average was the highest of any film playing wide this week.
Samurai is an epic about a battle-worn war hero who has lost his soul but finds redemption in an ancient Japanese society he once perceived as the enemy.
Universal Pictures' PG-13-rated toe-tapper Honey opened in second place with an ESTIMATED $14 million in 1,942 theaters ($7,209 per theater).
The film follows a talented dancer as she makes her way in the fast-paced world of hip-hop.
Buena Vista's PG-rated horror comedy The Haunted Mansion dropped to No. 3 in its second week with an ESTIMATED $9.5 million (-61%) at 3,122 theaters (unchanged; $3,043 per theater). The film based on the Disney theme park attraction has accumulated approximately $46.1 million so far.
New Line Cinema's PG-rated holiday comedy Elf fell just one spot to fourth in its fifth week with an ESTIMATED $8.1 million (-62%) at 3,119 theaters (-83 theaters; $2,605 per theater). Its cume is approximately $139.6 million.
*Box office estimates provided by Exhibitor Relations, Inc.
Universal Pictures' PG-rated Dr. Seuss' Cat in the Hat, last week's box office champ, dropped considerably to fifth place in its third week with an ESTIMATED $7.3 million (-70%) at 3,409 theaters (-55 theaters, $2,141 per theater). Its cume is approximately $85.5 million.
Miramax Films' R-rated dark comedy Bad Santa slipped just one spot down to No. 6 in its second week with an ESTIMATED $7 million (-42%) at 2,091 theaters (+86; $3,385 per theater). Its cume is approximately $27.2 million.
Warner Bros.' R-rated horror thriller Gothika fell three notches to seventh place in its third week with an ESTIMATED $5.3 million at 2,205 theaters (-177; $2,415 per theater). Its cume is approximately $49.6 million.
Sony Pictures' R rated Western The Missing dropped one spot to eighth in its second week with an ESTIMATED $4.4 million (-59%) at 2,765 theaters (unchanged; $1,597 per theater). The tense drama about a frontierswomen trying to rescue her kidnapped daughter has taken in approximately $22.1 million so far.
Twentieth Century Fox's PG-13-rated naval epic Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World fell three places to take ninth in its fourth week with an ESTIMATED $3.8 million (-68%) at 2,344 theaters (-359 theaters; $1,621 per theater). Its cume is approximately $72.6 million.
Universal Pictures' R-rated romantic comedy Love Actually rounded out the top 10 in its fifth week with an ESTIMATED $3.7 million (-55%) in 1,672 theaters (-34 theaters; $2,213 per theater). Its cume is approximately $48.9 million.
The Top 12 films this weekend grossed an ESTIMATED $91.7 million, down 27.18 percent from last weekend's $126 million take but up a hefty 33.90 percent from last year's $68.5 million.
Last year, MGM's PG-13-rated Die Another Day stayed in first place in its third week with $12.8 million at 3,347 theaters ($3,837 per theater); Warner Bros. R-rated sequel Analyze That debuted in second place with $11 million in 2,635 theaters ($4,188 per theater); and Warner Bros.' PG-rated Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets dropped to third in its fourth week with $10 million in 3,387 theaters ($2,978 per theater).