LOS ANGELES - Movie audiences have gone from one robbery flick to another.
"Ocean's Twelve," the star-driven sequel to the theft caper "Ocean's Eleven," debuted with $40.9 million, stealing the top box office slot from the heist hit "National Treasure," which slipped to third place with $10 million, according to studio estimates Sunday.
"National Treasure," which held the No. 1 spot the three previous weekends, lifted its domestic total to $124.2 million.
"Blade: Trinity," the third in Wesley Snipes' vampire series, opened at No. 2 with $16.1 million. The franchise had lost much of its bite since "Blade II," which debuted with more than twice the revenue, $32.5 million, and opened as the No. 1 movie in March 2002.
Since opening Wednesday, "Blade: Trinity" grossed $24.5 million.
Playing in 3,290 theaters, "Ocean's Twelve" averaged a robust $12,426 a cinema, compared with $5,537 in 2,912 movie houses for "Blade: Trinity."
In limited release, Bill Murray's quirky oceanography tale "The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou" opened strongly, taking in $114,000 at just two theaters in New York City and Los Angeles. The film expands on Christmas Day.
Hollywood revenues rose solidly, with the top 12 movies taking in $102.8 million, up 28 percent from the same weekend in 2003, when "Something's Gotta Give" opened as the No. 1 movie with $16.1 million.
"Ocean's Twelve" reunites director Steven Soderbergh with a dream cast led by George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, Julia Roberts and Andy Garcia. Joining them this time was Catherine Zeta-Jones, adding to the sequel's star power.
"Movie-goers like their movie stars all in one place," said Paul Dergarabedian, president of box-office tracker Exhibitor Relations. "It's like one-stop shopping for all the top stars in Hollywood."
The follow-up sends the gang to Europe, where they must pull off a virtually impossible heist to win a bet with a rival and pay off the Vegas casino owner they robbed in "Ocean's Eleven."
Given the movie's marquee-name roster and the success of the first movie, which grossed $183.4 million domestically, some industry analysts thought "Ocean's Twelve" might do even better over opening weekend.
Still, its debut came in higher than the $38.1 million opening weekend of "Ocean's Eleven" in December 2001. Factoring in today's higher admission prices, "Ocean's Twelve" sold slightly fewer tickets than the original.
Distributor Warner Bros. and producer Jerry Weintraub already are mulling a second "Ocean's" sequel, said Dan Fellman, the studio's head of distribution.
"I spoke to Jerry this morning and told him we need an 'Ocean's Thirteen,' and he said, 'Kid, I'm working on it,'" Fellman said. "I think when you look at the movie, it's obvious everyone had such a fabulous time making it that it would surprise me if Jerry couldn't do it again."
"Blade: Trinity" features Snipes returning as the half-human, half-vampire action hero, this time battling the lord of the bloodsuckers, Dracula.
Distributor New Line hopes "Blade: Trinity" will hold up well during an onslaught of comedies, dramas and family flicks through year's end.
"Everybody always wants their numbers to be better," said David Tuckerman, head of distribution for New Line. "Still, we're basically the only movie like it. There's nothing else like it in the marketplace, a sci-fi, horror type of movie."
Estimated ticket sales for Friday through Sunday at North American theaters, according to Exhibitor Relations Co. Inc. Final figures will be released Monday.
1. "Ocean's Twelve," $40.9 million
2. "Blade: Trinity," $16.1 million.
3. "National Treasure," $10 million.
4. "The Polar Express," $9.8 million.
5. "Christmas With the Kranks," $7.6 million.
6. "The Incredibles," $5.05 million.
7. "The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie," $4.4 million.
8. "Closer," $3.75 million.
9. "Finding Neverland," $1.7 million.
10. "Alexander," $1.4 million.