The Jackie Robinson tale "42" took in $27.3 million to claim the weekend box-office championship domestically, according to studio estimates Sunday.
The film has yet to open overseas, where the sport is a harder sell. But Cruise knocked it out of the park with a $61.1 million international launch in 52 countries for his sci-fi thriller "Oblivion."
That bodes well for the domestic debut of "Oblivion" next Friday. The film stars Cruise as a workman on a devastated future Earth who lands in a battle with aliens.
If "Oblivion" packs in comparable domestic crowds, it will help maintain the action-star momentum Cruise regained with 2011's "Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol." That return to box-office luster came after some fitful years that followed odd turns in his personal life, culminating with the breakup of his marriage to Katie Holmes last year.
Released by Warner Bros., "42" easily beat the domestic start of an established franchise in "Scary Movie 5." The Weinstein Co. sequel opened in second-place with $15.2 million, the smallest debut for the horror-comedy series.
Three of the previous four "Scary Movie" installments had debuts of $40 million or more.
On the other hand, "42" outdid the usual expectations for baseball movies, which usually do modest business at best. Box-office trackers had expected "42" to pull in less than $20 million.
The previous weekend's top draw, Sony's horror remake "Evil Dead," tumbled to No. 5 with $9.5 million, raising its domestic haul to $41.5 million.
The $27.3 million opening for "42" is a record for a baseball flick in terms of straight dollars, topping the $19.5 million debut of "Moneyball" in 2011. Factoring in higher ticket prices, the $13.7 million debut of 1992's "A League of Their Own" would have been on par with "42" in terms of inflation-adjusted dollars.
The film stars Chadwick Boseman as Robinson and Harrison Ford as Brooklyn Dodgers boss Branch Rickey, who brought No. 42 onto the team in 1947 as the Major Leagues' first black player.
"It's a story that has so much emotion to it. Jackie Robinson's life had such an influence on our country," said Dan Fellman, head of distribution for Warner Bros., who noted that all Major League players will wear No. 42 on Monday for Jackie Robinson Day, the 66th anniversary of his Dodgers debut. "Think of what a tribute that is for what he accomplished. Every player wearing 42 on his back."
With generally good reviews, "42" drew in older crowds, with 83 percent of the audience over 25, Fellman said.
"Scary Movie 5" was the franchise's first installment in seven years and had the same lukewarm reception as another Weinstein series that returned after a long lag. In 2011, "Scream 4" opened 11 years after the franchise's last movie and took in just $18.7 million, a fraction of the $30 million-plus debuts for the previous two sequels.
The previous low for the "Scary Movie" series was the second one, which opened with $20.5 million in 2001. "Scary Movie 3" had the best debut, with $48.1 million in 2003, though its total domestic haul of $110 million fell well short of the $157 million take for the 2000 original.
"Sometimes, when there's too big of a lag, people lose interest. If it's a 'Star Wars' movie, nostalgia works in your favor. The long lag works in your favor. People are loaded with anticipation," said Paul Dergarabedian, an analyst for box-office tracker Hollywood.com. "Other franchises, if you go too long, they lose that pop and excitement, and it's hard to get that back."
It didn't help that "Scary Movie 5" got the franchise's worst reviews. Critics haven't much cared for any of the "Scary Movie" flicks, but reviews for the latest were almost universally bad.
In limited release, director Terrence Malick's drama "To the Wonder" had a modest start, taking in $130,000 in 18 theaters for an average of $7,222 a cinema. That compares to a $9,074 average in 3,003 theaters for "42."
"To the Wonder" stars Ben Affleck, Olga Kurylenko, Rachel McAdams and Javier Bardem in a dreamlike, poetic musing on love.
Estimated ticket sales for Friday through Sunday at U.S. and Canadian theaters, according to Hollywood.com. Where available, latest international numbers are also included. Final domestic figures will be released Monday.
1. "42," $27.3 million.
2. "Scary Movie 5," $15.2 million.
3. "The Croods," $13.2 million ($25.5 million international).
4. "G.I. Joe: Retaliation," $10.8 million ($15.6 million international).
5. "Evil Dead," $9.5 million.
6. "Jurassic Park" in 3-D, $8.8 million ($1.3 million international).
7. "Olympus Has Fallen," $7.3 million.
8. "Oz the Great and Powerful," $4.9 million ($5.2 million international).
9. "Tyler Perry's Temptation," $4.5 million.
10. "The Place Beyond the Pines," $4.1 million.