LOS ANGELES "Warm Bodies," a romantic comedy featuring a warm-hearted zombie, lured teenage girls to the theatre, collecting $20 million (12.7 million pounds) in ticket sales in the U.S. and Canada to take the box office title on a weekend dominated by Super Bowl parties and football watching.
Playing in more than 3,000 theatres, the odd-pairing of a pale-faced zombie with his breathing girlfriend faced little competition among new films and easily mauled last weekend's winner "Hansel and Gretel," an updated version of the classic fairy tale with witch-hunting siblings. The film collected $9.2 million this weekend, according to studio estimates.
The weekend's other widely released newcomer, Warner Brothers' "Bullet to the Head," starring 66-year old Sylvester Stallone as a tattooed hitman, collected $4.5 million for sixth place.
Two weeks earlier, another aging action star, Arnold Schwarzenegger had a feeble opening in his own shoot-em-up, "The Last Stand."
Based on a first time novel by Seattle writer Isaac Marion, "Warm Bodies" was produced for a little more than $30 million by Lionsgate's Summit Entertainment, the studio that also produced the mega-blockbuster "Twilight" series.
The film stars 24-year-old British actor Marcus Brewer as the pale, stiff-walking zombie R, one of the few zombies capable of thought in a plaque ravaged world.
"We were above expectations going into the holiday weekend," says David Spitz, Lionsgate's executive vice president and general sales manager.
Spitz predicted that the film, which he referred to as a "rom-zom-com" would benefit from the upcoming long weekend in the U.S. that coincides with Valentine's Day and Presidents' Day.
Benefiting from the buzz following Oscar nominations for each of its four stars, "Silver Linings Playbook" was third with $8.1 million as it continued to open in more theatres and is now showing at more than 2,600 locations, according to the movie site Hollywood.com
Universal's Pictures' low-budget horror film "Mama", starring Jessica Chastain, continued its improbable ticket-selling run, with $6.7 million to rank fourth. It grossed more than $58 million in the two weeks since its release.
Also benefiting from its Oscar buzz, the Osama Bin Laden hunt movie "Zero Dark Thirty," had ticket sales of $5.3 million and has now surpassed $77 million domestically, according to the box office division of Hollywood.com. The film was nominated for five Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Actress for Jessica Chastain's starring role.
"Django Unchained," director Quentin Tarantino's western starring Jamie Foxx has a bounty-hunting former slave, passed $150 million in overall ticket sales and collected $3 million during the weekend. It was also nominated for five Oscars, including Best Picture and for Christoph Waltz's supporting role.
"Warm Bodies" surpassed industry projections of $18 million, and benefited from an aggressive marketing campaign that started last summer and included trailers attached to "The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn" and 60-second commercials on AMC channel's cult zombie hit "The Walking Dead."
(Reporting by Ronald Grover and Andrea Burzynski; Editing by Sandra Maler)