Guess Ben Affleck has finally moved past "Gigli."
Writing, directing and starring in Warner's "The Town" alongside Jeremy Renner, the oft-re-invented, occasionally disparaged 38-year-old Bostonian's latest project finished No. 1 at the domestic box office this weekend, opening to $23.8 million, according to studio estimates.
That surpassed pre-release tracking for an awards-targeted movie that was co-produced by Warner and Legendary Pictures at a cost of $37 million.
Finishing in second place was Sony/Screen Gems' female-youth-oriented "Easy A," which took in $18.2 million — under the exuberant $20 million-plus predictions of at least one movie-tracking firm, but A-OK for a film shot for less than $8 million.
"It's amazing that we got that much film for $8 million," noted Sony distribution chief Rory Bruer.
Here's a look at the top 10 at the weekend box office (report continues below):
In third place, Universal-distributed horror film "Devil" under-shot tracking in the mid-teens, bringing in $12.6 million. Produced by Media Rights Capital and the first of three films made under producer M. Night Shyamalan's "Night Chronicles" heading, "Devil" was acquired for worldwide distribution by Universal for $27 million.
Opening in seven international territories, "Devil" also brought in $2.3 million from abroad.
"This was a very, very reasonable acquisition for us," said Universal distribution chief Nikki Rocco. "Factoring in international rights, I do believe we'll be fine on this one."
"Devil" scored a middling "C-plus" grade from movie customer-satisfaction grader Cinemascore.
Meanwhile, even while backing low-budget horror movies, producer Shyamalan's streak of underwhelming box-office grosses, continues.
The filmmaker's summer release for Paramount, "The Last Airbender," yielded $282.1 million worldwide on a production spend of $150 million — and global marketing cost that probably exceeded $100 million.
Really, you have to go back to 2004 to find the last solid Shyamalan moneymaker, with Disney's "The Village" grossing $256.7 million worldwide on a $60 million negative cost.
One other film debuting in wide release this weekend, Lionsgate-distributed animated 3D film "Alpha and Omega" grossed $9.2 million. The film was produced by India's Crest Entertainment for a reported $25 million and acquired for North American distribution by Lionsgate for somewhat less than that.
Despite poor reviews, "Alpha and Omega" garnered a B grade from Cinemascore.
"It met our expectations and it will be a profitable film for the company," said Lionsgate executive VP of distribution David Spitz, while nothing the film's 80 percent Friday-to-Saturday bounce indicated strong play with family audiences.
"That shows that we played well with our core audience — parents taking their kids," Spitz added. "There just isn't much else out there for (family audiences) right now."
Still, most of the industry talk about the weekend box office centered around "The Town," which yielded Warner its best-ever September opening.
Warner distribution chief Dan Fellman compared the film to Martin Scorsese's "The Departed," which opened to $26.9 million for Warner on Oct. 6, 2006, and went on to gross $289.6 million worldwide and win Best Picture.
Fellman added that Affleck "has taken his place as one of Hollywood's top directors," noting the $20.3 million opening in October, 2007 for the Affleck-directed "Gone Baby Gone."
Audience-wise, "The Town" yielded an audience that was 55 percent male, with that segment giving the film an A-minus grade, according to Cinemascore.
"The Town" also helped Warner surpass Paramount in 2010 domestic marketshare — a crown the studio isn't likely to relinquish, with yet another "Harry Potter" film slated for November.
Overall, the domestic box office was virtually flat with the same September weekend in 2009, when Sony's "Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs" led the market.
Among the debuts of limited releases, Rogue Pictures' Sundance acquisition "Catfish" — distributed by Universal — grossed $255,000, playing at 12 locations in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Austin Texas, for a per-screen average of $21,271.
Fox Searchlight's "Never Let Me Go," premiering in four big-city locations, opened to $116,000, a per-screen average of $28,918.
Meanwhile, among holdovers, Sony's "Resident Evil: Afterlife" (last weekend's champ) led all incumbents, despite dropping more than 60 percent to $10.1 million. Shot by Paul W.S. Anderson for around $60 million, the film has grossed $103.2 million overseas so far — and should be the most profitable of the four-film, eight-year-old "Resident Evil" franchise.
Also boding well for Sony, caper film "Takers" finished in sixth place, adding another $3 million to a domestic total that has reached $52.4 million on a $32 million negative cost.
Overall, Sony had four films rank in the top 10 this weekend, with "The Other Guys" tallying another $2 million and bringing its seven-week domestic total to $115.4 million.
Finally, several benchmarks of note — Lionsgate's Sylvester Stallone ode-to-action film "The Expendables" crossed the $100 million mark domesticallly, with its six-week total now standing at $101 million. Lionsgate acquired domestic rights to the film from Avi Lerner's Nu Image/Millennium for around $20 million.
And Summit early-summer release "Twilight Saga: Eclipse" — recently re-introduced theatrically, at least partly so that it could pass the $300 million threshold domestically — narrowly achieved its goal over the weekend.