Contagion has infected enough moviegoers to catch the top spot at the US box office.
The Warner Bros pandemic thriller directed by Steven Soderbergh and starring an A-list cast that includes Matt Damon, Kate Winslet, Jude Law and Gwyneth Paltrow coughed up 23.1 million dollars in its first weekend, according to studio estimate.
The film's contagious opening marked the beginning of the autumn movie season by exceeding the studio's estimates.
"I think Steven Soderbergh made a compelling movie that tapped into that fear that many of us have about illnesses, viruses and pandemics," said Jeff Goldstein, Warner Bros.general sales manager. "It's like a train or car accident. You can't look away. You prefer not to think about it, but when it's presented to you, you want to learn more."
The Help, the acclaimed DreamWorks Pictures drama distributed by Disney about black Southern maids speaking out during the civil-rights movement, slipped to number two with 8.7 million dollars after three straight weeks at the top, bringing its domestic total to 137 million.
Warrior, the Lionsgate mixed-martial arts drama starring Tom Hardy and Joel Edgerton, punched up a 5.6 million dollar debut in the number three position. David Spitz, head of distribution for Lionsgate, said he expects Warrior to mirror the simmering success of The Help.
"The film has gotten unbelievable reviews," said Spitz. "The audience reaction we're getting on the movie is consistent."
Overseas, the family smash The Smurfs continued to dominate, pulling in 14.9 million dollars to pad its international total to 321.2 million and its worldwide haul to 457.2 million, according to Hollywood.com.
Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes again came in second internationally with 12.5 million dollars, lifting its overseas take to 207.6 million and its worldwide total to 375.4 million.