LOS ANGELES -- The butler did it.
Despite a clutch of new films in theaters this weekend, Lee Daniels' The Butler topped them all, serving up $25 million, according to studio estimates.
The victory came as a surprise to some analysts, who expected summer's latest superhero flick, Kick-Ass 2, to whip the competition.
But Butler trounced the newcomers among critics, and connected solidly with fans. About 73% of reviewers recommended the movie, while it scored an 81% approval rating among moviegoers, says survey site Rottentomatoes.com. The movie earned an "A" among audiences, says pollsters CinemaScore.
The Forest Whitaker drama also benefited from canny timing, says Box Office Mojo's Ray Subers, who notes that similar August dramas including Julie & Julia, Eat Pray Love and The Help all enjoyed August debuts above $20 million.
"One of The Butler's biggest advantages is its very strong release date," Subers says. "After a few months of big-budget, male-skewing blockbuster fare, female-skewing adult dramas have consistently done good business" at summer's close.
Kick-Ass 2, the comic-book adaptation expected to vie for the weekend box office crown, mustered just fourth place and $13.6 million. Analysts expected at least $19.5 million, the amount the original opened to in 2010. Critics pounded the film: only 28% gave it a thumbs-up.
The Jennifer Aniston comedy We're the Millers landed at No. 2 for the second straight weekend, this time with $17.8 million, followed by the sci-fi thriller Elysium with $13.6 million.
The Disney animated film Planes rounded out the top five with $13.1 million.
The two other major newcomers of the weekend, Jobs and Paranoia, made little impact in theaters. Jobs, the biopic of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, took seventh place with $6.7 million. Paranoia, a corporate thriller with Harrison Ford and Gary Oldman, mustered just $3.5 million, nowhere near the top 10.
Final figures are due Monday.