LOS ANGELES - Heaven beat the devil at the box office this weekend.
The Reese Witherspoon, Mark Ruffalo romantic comedy "Just Like Heaven" debuted at No. 1 with an estimated $16.5 million in ticket sales, bumping the courtroom horror film "The Exorcism of Emily Rose" into second place.
Overall, box office revenue jumped an estimated 13 percent compared with the same weekend last year, continuing the upward trend in movie grosses after a dismal summer, said Paul Dergarabedian, president of box-office tracker Exhibitor Relations.
"The fall season is starting in a terrific fashion," Dergarabedian said. "I'm cautiously saying that we're back on track. Audiences are just finding that the studios have a lot to offer right now."
In its second weekend, "The Exorcism of Emily Rose," about a Catholic priest on trial for negligent homicide following the death of a satanically possessed 19-year-old, earned $15.3 million in ticket sales from Friday to Sunday, bringing its total domestic gross to $52 million, according to studio estimates.
"Lord of War," starring Nicolas Cage as an arms dealer pursued by Interpol agent Ethan Hawke, debuted in third place with $9.2 million.
Dreamworks' "Just Like Heaven," which follows a man who encounters romance from beyond when a ghost keeps appearing in his apartment, touched on the audiences' desire for something light and romantic, Dergarabedian said.
"It was sort of one of these traditional romantic comedies. Even the reviewers said it seemed like such a pat formula, but they kind of liked it," Dergarabedian said, "And Reese Witherspoon is always a draw."
The film owed its successful debut to the female over-25 crowd, who made up more than two-thirds of its audience, according to Jim Tharp, head of distribution for Dreamworks. Tharp said positive exit reviews suggest the film will continue to grow by word of mouth.
"When you have strong exits, eventually it gets out to everyone," he said.
The comedy "The 40 Year-Old Virgin" continued its successful run, moving to fourth place with $5.8 million, bringing its total to $90.6 million. Opening in fifth place with $4.6 million was "Cry Wolf," about a group of teens who spread online rumors about a serial killer only to find the story coming true.
Also opening in limited release at five theaters, Tim Burton's stop-motion animated film, "Corpse Bride," voiced by Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter, earned an impressive $411,000.
Meanwhile "March of the Penguins," now in its 13th week, moved up a spot to ninth place, boosting its total to $70.4 million as it inched toward "Fahrenheit 9/11," which earned $119 million, as the top grossing documentary of all time.
"It's an amazing run," Dergarabedian said. "Nobody ever thought this would have a chance of challenging 'Fahrenheit.'"
Despite the upswing, box office revenue for the year remained down about 6 percent, with attendance down 9 percent.
Estimated ticket sales for Friday through Sunday at U.S. and Canadian theaters, according to Exhibitor Relations Co. Inc. Final figures will be released Monday.
1. "Just Like Heaven," $16.5 million.
2. "The Exorcism of Emily Rose," $15.3 million.
3. "Lord of War," $9.2 million.
4. "The 40 Year-Old Virgin," $5.8 million.
5. "Cry Wolf," $4.6 million.
6. "The Transporter 2," $4.0 million.
7. "The Constant Gardener," $3.7 million.
8. "Red Eye," $2.9 million.
9. "March of the Penguins," $2.6.
10. "Wedding Crashers," $2.5 million.
11. "An Unfinished Life," $2.1 million.
12. "The Brothers Grimm," $2.0 million.