Stoner movie "Pineapple Express" fell a few hits short of knocking "The Dark Knight" out of his Batmobile as the Caped Crusader powered to his fourth straight weekend as the box-office leader.
Sony Pictures' R-rated comedy about a pothead and his small-time dealer on the lam from the law and a ruthless drug lord after witnessing a murder scored $22.4 million for the weekend, for a total of $40.4 million since opening Wednesday.
Strong numbers for a movie that cost about $27 million to produce, but not enough to overtake Warner Bros.' Batman blockbuster, which pulled in $26 million for the weekend and boosted its domestic total to $441.5 million.
That moved "The Dark Knight" ahead of "Shrek 2" on the all-time list, behind "Titanic" and "Star Wars," said Paul Dergarabedian, president of Media by Numbers, a box-office tracking service.
"The staying power of this film is somewhat unprecedented," he said, noting that the last movie to enjoy a four-week run at the top was "Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King," which opened in December 2003.
"What makes it even more impressive is the fact that it's a summer film and it's taking on all competitors and prevailing in such a profound way," he said.
Dan Fellman, Warner's head of domestic distribution, cited several factors for the movie's hold on the top spot, including repeat business, popularity among older and infrequent moviegoers, and a continued strong showing on Imax screens, which rang up $3.2 million this weekend.
He predicted that "The Dark Knight," which stars Christian Bale as Batman and the late Heath Ledger as his nemesis, the Joker, would soon bump up a notch and eventually gross about $520 million.
"By next weekend, we'll be in No. 2, ahead of 'Star Wars,' " he said. That 1977 hit brought in $461 million; "Titanic" topped $600 million.
Though "Pineapple Express" didn't manage to grab the top spot, Sony executives weren't exactly crying in their bong water over the box-office performance of the raunchy comedy starring Seth Rogen and James Franco.
Produced by Judd Apatow, who earlier brought to life such hits as "The 40-Year-Old Virgin" and "Knocked Up," the movie opened Wednesday at $12 million and sales more than tripled by the weekend.
"The $40 million for us was just like, wow, we couldn't be happier," said Rory Bruer, Sony's president of domestic distribution.
"Everything about this movie has just played out really well."
Brandon Gray, president of box-office tracker Box Office Mojo, said "Pineapple Express" was doing better than might be expected, given that its subject matter had a narrower appeal than some of Apatow's earlier offerings.
"For a stoner action comedy, it's doing very well," he said.
In other results this weekend, Universal's "The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor" slipped to third from second with $16.1 million in ticket sales and nearly $71 million total.
"The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2," a Warner Bros. movie that also premiered Wednesday, finished fourth with $10.7 million for the weekend and $19.7 million in all.
Universal's "Mamma Mia!" dropped two spots to sixth but still took in $8 million, enough to push it across the $100-million mark in domestic ticket sales.
Despite some strong showings, this marked the third weekend in a row that box-office receipts were lower than comparable weekends last summer, Dergarabedian said. This weekend's total was about $120 million, compared with $154 million for the same one last year, his data show.
His numbers also show that box-office revenue for the year is $6.14 billion, down from $6.17 billion for the same period last year. Attendance is off by 4.3%.
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Preliminary results (in millions) in the U.S. and Canada, based on studio projections:
*--* Rank Movie 3-day gross Total Weeks -- (studio) (millions) (millions) 1 The Dark Knight $26.0 $441.5 4 -- (Warner Bros.) 2 Pineapple Express 22.4 40.4 1 (Sony) 3 The Mummy: Tomb of 16.1 70.6 2 -- the Dragon Emperor -- (Universal) 4 Sisterhood of the 10.7 19.7 1 -- Traveling Pants 2 -- (Warner Bros.) 5 Step Brothers 8.9 80.9 3 -- (Sony) 6 Mamma Mia! 8.0 100.4 4 -- (Universal) 7 Journey to the Center 4.8 81.7 5 -- of the Earth -- (Warner Bros.) 8 Hancock 3.3 221.7 6 -- (Sony) 9 Swing Vote 3.1 12.0 2 -- (Disney) 10 Wall-E 3.0 210.1 7 -- (Disney) *--*
*--* 3-day gross Change Year-to-date gross Change (in millions) From 2007 (in billions) from 2006 $120 -22.2% $6.14 -0.42% *--*
Source: Media by Numbers