Jessica Chastain easily outmuscled Arnold Schwarzenegger and Mark Wahlberg at the weekend, topping the North American box office with her supernatural horror film Mama and the Oscar-nominated Osama bin Laden hunt thriller Zero Dark Thirty.
Mama opened well above expectations with a box-office topping US$28.1 million (836 million baht) for Universal Pictures, according to studio estimates on Sunday.
Chastain also held the second spot with Zero Dark Thirty, for which she received an Academy Awards nomination for best actress. In its second week of wide release, Zero Dark Thirty took in US$17.6 million.
The films' strong performances had the remarkable effect of making Chastain an unlikely box-office queen out of a chameleon-like actress that even fans of Mama might have trouble picking out of a line-up.
Chastain, whose credits range from Terrence Malick's The Tree Of Life to The Help (for which she was also Oscar-nominated), even accomplished the rare feat by besting a couple of more traditional box-office stalwarts.
Schwarzenegger's action flick The Last Stand opened with just US$6.3 million for Lionsgate, one of the worst debuts for the brawny 65-year-old star. The film came in 10th.
Though Schwarzenegger co-starred in The Expendables 2, which opened with US$28.6 million in August, The Last Stand is his first proper starring vehicle since exiting the California governor's seat in January 2011.
The Mark Wahlberg, Russell Crowe-led New York crime film Broken City didn't fare much better.
The Fox release premiered with US$9.1 million.
Instead, audiences flocked to Mama, which bore the imprimatur of the well-respected fantasy-spinner Guillermo Del Toro, a producer.
Nikki Rocco, head of distribution for Universal Pictures, said there was an apparently limitless appetite for such a film, if done right: ''That's why we did it,'' she said.
''It's a fun film without a lot of extraordinary violence,'' said Rocco, who added she would have been ''thrilled'' with a debut in the mid- to high-teens. ''Young people like scary stuff.''
Though horror films generally are a hit with male audiences, Mama appealed strongly to females, who made up 61% of its moviegoers. That was key on a weekend filled with male-driven movies, including Broken City, The Last Stand, Warner Bros.' Gangster Squad and the Weinstein Co.'s Django Unchained.
''It's an incredibly competitive marketplace for testosterone-driven films,'' said Dergarabedian. The Weinstein Co.'s Silver Linings Playbook, nominated for eight Academy Awards including best picture, took in US$11.4 million on the weekend _ the same in which its star Jennifer Lawrence hosted Saturday Night Live _ for a cumulative total of US$55.3 million.
Also nominated for best picture, Quentin Tarantino's Django Unchained, in its fourth week became the director's biggest box-office hit in North America.
THE TOP 10
Estimated ticket sales for Friday through to Sunday at US and Canadian cinemas, according to Hollywood.com.
1. Mama, $28.1 million.
2. Zero Dark Thirty, $17.6 million.
3. Silver Linings Playbook, $11.4 million.
4. Gangster Squad, $9.1 million.
5. Broken City, $9 million.
6. A Haunted House, $8.3 million.
7. Django Unchained, $8.2 million.
8. Les Miserables, $7.8 million.
9. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, $6.4 million.
10. The Last Stand, $6.3 million.