While not as wicked as its predecessor at the box office, Resident Evil: Retribution claimed the top spot at theaters, another No. 1 for a surprisingly consistent franchise.
TheMilla Jovovich video-game adaptation claimed $21.1 million, accordingto studio estimates from box-office tracking firm Hollywood.com.
The debut pales in comparison to the 2010 installment, Afterlife, which opened to $27 million. Analysts expected a debut of around $22 million.
Still, the critically panned series won a close race with the 3-D release of Finding Nemo, which some analysts expected to open at No. 1.
But fans have silenced Resident'scritics as the five movies of the franchise have done more than $220million domestically and more than $250 million worldwide.
Though Retribution marksthe second-lowest debut of the franchise (behind only the 2002original's $18 million), "there's little reason to believe that it's theend of the franchise, as it has become wildly popular overseas," saysTim Briody of Boxofficeprophets.com.
And withvideo-game versions out next month for PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, "I'dexpect a sixth film in the next two to three years," Briody says.
Critics could probably wait longer. Just 35% of reviewers liked Retribution, according to pollsters Rottentomatoes.com. But 71% of fans gave it a thumbs-up, the site says.
Nemo,meanwhile, earned raves from a near-perfect 99% of critics,Rottentomatoes says, and took second place with $17.5 million. Despitethe second-place finish, kids make for strong repeat viewing, andanalysts say the film could collect more than $60 million by the end ofits run.
The horror film The Possession took third with $5.8 million, followed by the gangster film Lawless with $4.2 million.
The cartoon ParaNorman rounded out the top five with $3 million. Final figures are due Monday.
Studios began trickling out Oscar bait this weekend in the form of Richard Gere's financial thriller Arbitrage and the Paul Thomas Anderson drama The Master.
Arbitrage took 12th place with $2.1 million in 197 theaters for a healthy $10,506 per-screen average.
The Scientology-inspired The Masterdid even better, scoring $730,000 in five theaters in New York and LosAngeles for a whopping $146,000 per-screen average. The film expandsnext weekend.
Ticket sales remain 3% ahead of last year's pace, while attendance remains up 2%, Hollywood.com says.