After three weeks as reigning box-office champion,Lee Daniels' The Butler stepped down this weekend, surrendering the post to Vin Diesel.
Diesel's sci-fi sequel Riddick captured the first weekend of Hollywood's fall season, claiming $18.7 million, according to studio estimates from box-office trackers Hollywood.com.
The opening met most analysts' expectations, though the weekend didn't carry much momentum from the lucrative summer season, which ended with a record $4.7 billion in ticket sales.
Still, Riddick managed to win over enough critics and fans to supplant Butler, which marks the only film of 2013 to claim the weekend box-office crown for three consecutive weeks.
Riddick earned recommendations from 59% of the nation's critics — mediocre, though not bad for a Diesel film — while 69% of fans gave the film a thumbs-up, according to survey site Rottentomatoes.com.
While it had been nearly a decade since Diesel returned to the outer-space saga —Pitch Black did $39 million in 2000, while The Chronicles of Riddick captured $58 million in 2004 — the actor's rising status will likely make the $38 million Riddickprofitable by the end of the month, analysts say.
"After a few quiet years, Diesel's star has gone up again recently, thanks to the enormous success of the last three Fast & Furious movies," says Ray Subers of Box Office Mojo.
Subers says Diesel's name alone "has particularly strong drawing power among males and Hispanics."
Riddick flourished despite opening in early fall, a veritable wasteland for many films. "Kids are going back to school, football returns with a vengeance — stealing away time and attention of millions — and so studios refrain from releasing big movies," says Gitesh Pandya, analyst for Boxofficeguru.com.
With "nothing in the current top five being that compelling" for action-starved fanboys,Riddick proved irresistible. And despite only a so-so reaction from critics, "reviews have been more than good enough for this type of franchise flick."
It was plenty to topple Butler, which took second with $8.9 million.
The Spanish-language comedy Instructions Not Included took third with $8.1 million, followed by the raunchy comedy We're the Millers with $7.9 million.
The animated comedy Planes rounded out the top five with $4.3 million. Final figures are expected Monday.
Ticket sales are neck-and-neck with last year's pace, down just 1% for the year, says Hollywood.com.