Sony's Resident Evil: Extinction went straight to the top of the North American box office chart this weekend with a $24m estimated gross, the best domestic opening yet for the Resident Evil sci-fi horror franchise.

Two other wide releases had more modest debuts but several awards hopefuls had promising launches or expansions.

Resident Evil: Extinction, from Sony's Screen Gems label, has been billed as the third and final installment of the video game-derived franchise about the sexy zombie hunter played by Milla Jovovich. But the franchise might get a new lease on life thanks to Extinction 's stronger than expected opening (from 2,828 theatres, for a per-theatre average of $8,486).

The young male audience clearly ignored mostly negative reviews and gave the new film a better start than either of its predecessors - 2002's Resident Evil, which opened with $17.7m and went on to take $40.1m domestically, and 2004's Resident Evil: Apocalypse, which opened with $23m on its way to $51.2m.

Lionsgate's R-rated sex comedy Good Luck Chuck opened in second place with $14m from 2,612 theatres (average - $5,359). Stars Jessica Alba and Dane Cook proved strong enough draws to overcome damning reviews and deliver the expected crowd of date-night moviegoers.

Morgan Creek's PG-13 updated fairy tale comedy Sydney White, with Amanda Bynes starring and Universal distributing domestically, opened in sixth place with $5.3m from 2,104 theatres (average - $2,529). That was slightly below expectations for the film, which was targeted at young females and got mixed reviews.

Last week's top two films slid to third and fourth, with Warner's The Brave One dropping 45% to an estimated $7.4m from 2,755 theatres (average - $2,695) and Lionsgate's 3:10 To Yuma slipping 29% - in spite of adding 235 theatres - to $6.4m from 2,902 theatres (average - $2,188).

Among award contenders, Focus Features' Eastern Promises, from director David Cronenberg, went from a limited release to a 1,404-theatre platform and landed at number five in the top 10 with an estimated $5.7m (average - $4,093)

Outside the top ten, Paramount Vantage's Into The Wild, the Alaska wilderness drama with Sean Penn directing and Emile Hirsch starring, opened - with a boost from very favourable reviews - with an estimated $207,000 from four theatres (average - $51,750).

And Warner's mostly well-received Western drama The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, with Brad Pitt and Casey Affleck playing the title characters for director Andrew Dominik, made its debut with an estimated $144,000 from five theatres (average - $28,800).

Next weekend's wide releases are: Buena Vista's family comedy The Game Plan, with The Rock starring and Andy Fickman directing; Universal's Middle East-set thriller The Kingdom, with Jamie Foxx and Jennifer Garner starring for director Peter Berg; and MGM's romance Feast Of Love, with Robert Benton directing Morgan Freeman, Greg Kinnear, Radha Mitchell and Selma Blair.

Estimated Top 10 North America Sept 21-23, 2007

Film (Dist)/Int'l dist/Est wkd gross/Est total to date

1 (-) Resident Evil: Extinction (Sony) SPRI $24m -

2 (-) Good Luck Chuck (Lionsgate) SPRI $14m -

3 (1) The Brave One (Warner Bros) WBPI $7.4m $25.1m

4 (2) 3:10 To Yuma (Lionsgate) Magnetik $6.4m $37.9m

5 (-) Eastern Promises (Focus Features) Focus Features Intl $5.7m $6.5m

6 (-) Sydney White (Universal) Morgan Creek Intl $5.3m -

7 (3) Mr Woodcock (New Line) NLI $5m $15.7m

8 (4) Superbad (Sony) SPRI $3.1m $116.2m

9 (7) The Bourne Ultimatum (Universal) UPI $2.8m $220.2m

10 (5) D-War (Freestyle Releasing) Young-gu Art $2.5m $8.4m