Ben Affleck and Samuel L. Jackson's "Changing Lanes" drew heavy traffic as the drama about two men bent on revenge after a fender-bender debuted in the No. 1 spot with $17.6 million this weekend.
"Panic Room," the top film for the last two weekends, slipped to second with $11.3 million, while Cameron Diaz's romantic comedy "The Sweetest Thing" opened at No. 3 with $10 million, according to studio estimates Sunday.
The horror flick "Frailty," starring Matthew McConaughey and Bill Paxton, premiered with $4.2 million, tying for eighth place with "National Lampoon's Van Wilder."
In narrower release, the satiric comedy "Human Nature" opened weakly with $300,000, averaging a meager $1,339 in 224 theaters. The film stars Patricia Arquette and Tim Robbins and was written by Charlie Kaufman ("Being John Malkovich").
"Changing Lanes" averaged $6,716 in 2,613 theaters, compared with $3,745 in 2,670 cinemas for "The Sweetest Thing" and $2,806 in 1,497 locations for "Frailty."
The overall box office continued a string of up weekends. The top 12 films grossed $84.1 million, an 11.5% increase from the same weekend a year ago.
So far this year, Hollywood has posted domestic revenues of about $2.25 billion, 18% ahead of last year's pace, when the industry set a yearlong record of $8.4 billion, said Paul Dergarabedian, president of box-office tracker Exhibitor Relations.
Healthy spring business could boost Hollywood's busy summer season, which gets an early start next weekend with the debut of "The Scorpion King," a spinoff of "The Mummy" franchise starring pro wrestler the Rock.
"Changing Lanes" benefited from generally positive reviews, Affleck's allure to women and Jackson's appeal to black audiences, said Wayne Lewellen, head of distribution for Paramount, which released the film. The audience was split 50-50 between men and women, and about 70% was older than 25, he said.
That demographic breakdown should help "Changing Lanes" hold up against "The Scorpion King," which is expected to appeal largely to teenage boys and young males, Lewellen said.
"The Sweetest Thing" drew mainly 17- to 25-year-olds and a largely female audience, said Jeff Blake, president of worldwide marketing and distribution for Sony, which released the movie.
The reissue of "E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial" took in $1.5 million, pushing its four-week gross to $32.9 million. The movie's 20-year total climbed to $432.7 million, edging past "Star Wars: Episode I The Phantom Menace" for No. 3 on the all-time domestic box-office chart.
Rounding out the weekend's top 10 were "Ice Age" at No. 4 with an estimated $8.7 million, followed by "The Rookie" with $8.1 million, "High Crimes" with $8 million, "Clockstoppers" with $4.8 million, "Frailty," and "Van Wilder" and "Blade II" with $4.1 million.