The Rite

Exorcism chiller 'The Rite' didn't scare up as much money as predicted, but it still took possession of enough ticketbuyers to claim the top spot at the box office.

According to studio estimates, the Anthony Hopkins occult horror film earned $15.0 million, enough to dethrone last week's champ, romantic comedy 'No Strings Attached.' The weekend's other new wide release, Jason Statham's shoot-'em-up 'The Mechanic,' settled for a neck-and-neck tie for third place with fellow action spectacle 'The Green Hornet,' now in its third weekend.

'The Rite' had been expected to score as high as $20 million, given the relative lack of horror competition (does 'Black Swan' count?), Hopkins' star power and the film's teen-girl-friendly PG-13 rating. But the reviews were weak, there were no big names besides Hopkins (it was left to little-known Irish actor Colin O'Donoghue to provide youth appeal), and the demonic-possession genre may be played out for a while after such recent films as 'The Last Exorcism' and the 'Paranormal Activity' movies. Still, the movie enjoyed a wide opening on nearly 3,000 screens and the best per-screen average ($5,027 per venue) of any wide-release movie this week.

'No Strings Attached' remained strong, experiencing only a 31 percent drop in its second weekend to an estimated $13.7 million. That Natalie Portman was nominated for Best Actress this week (for 'Black Swan,' still holding up well at No. 8) couldn't have hurt.

The Mechanic

Third place was a virtual tie between 'Green Hornet' and 'The Mechanic,' with studio estimates of $11.5 million for both. For 'Hornet,' that figure represents a 35 percent drop from last weekend, but for 'Mechanic,' it's slightly ahead of predictions. Statham's films tend to open modestly, and this one was expected to debut at around $10 million. But as the ads noted, there was no football this weekend, and there was no other new action fare to draw a young male audience.

In fifth place was 'The King's Speech,' which took advantage of its newfound Oscar buzz (it was nominated for 12 Academy Awards on Tuesday, making it the frontrunner in the Best Picture race) to add another 877 screens. The result was a 41 percent jump in business, to an estimated $11.1 million. With $72.2 million earned to date, the film joins 'Black Swan,' 'The Fighter,'' and 'The Social Network' among Best Picture hopefuls likely to top $100 million.

Nominees 'True Grit,' 'Inception' and 'Toy Story 3' have already gone well past that figure. In fact, 'True Grit,' the second most-nominated film this year (10 nods), saw a modest bump this weekend, up 4 percent despite losing 344 screens. An estimated $7.6 million take brings its total to $148.4 million

The full top 10:
1. 'The Rite,' $15.0 million (2,985 screens), new release
2. 'No Strings Attached,' $13.7 million (3,022), $39.7 million total
3. 'The Green Hornet,' $11.5 million (3,524), $78.8 million
3. 'The Mechanic,' $11.5 million (2,703), new release
5. 'The King's Speech,' $11.1 million (2,557), $72.2 million
6. 'True Grit,' $7.6 million (3,120), $148.4 million
7. 'The Dilemma,' $5.5 million (2,905), $40.6 million
8. 'Black Swan,' $5.1 million (2,315), $90.7 million
9. 'The Fighter,' $4.1 million (1,914), $78.4 million
10. 'Yogi Bear,' $3.2 million (2,133), $92.5 million

•Follow Gary Susman on Twitter @garysusman.