UPDATED — MONDAY AM: Apocalypto ends weekend with $14.9 mil after better-than-expected Sunday revenues…

SUNDAY AM: Call it a Hollywood shocker: Mel’s Apocalypto not only won the weekend but had a bigger opening than his Braveheart. Despite scandal, an R-rating, subtitles because of an ancient dialect, rumors of walkouts on account of the violent content, no stars, and direct competition from movieland AAA-listers Leonardo DiCaprio and Cameron Diaz, Gibson’s Mayan epic made $4.9 million Friday and $5.7 million Saturday for what was weekend box office of $14.2 million (includes Sunday estimates). I’m told this far exceeded Mel’s and Disney’s expectations for the weekend. Also surprising were the exit polls showing 52% men and 48% women saw Apocalypto, and it scored highest with women 30+. (The lure of loin cloths.) “Good reviews and strong exit polls should give the film a chance to play through the holidays,” a Gibson insider told me Sunday. At first, box office gurus expected that, with three very competitive films running up against each other, the weekend would be too close to call. cameron_jude.jpgBut my reporting back on December 1st showed that early tracking had Mel’s movie (playing in 2,465 theaters) would edge ahead. Apocalypto had the best per screen average of the top movies Friday at $1,988. Its weekend number easily beat Mel’s Braveheart, which made $9.9 mil for Fri-Sat-Sun when it opened in 2,037 theaters during Memorial Weekend back in 1995 (and $12.9 mil for the four-day holiday) and went on to rake in $75.6 mil in the U.S. and $210.4 mil worldwide, helped by winning the Best Picture Oscar. Based on weekend gross, the No. 2 spot with $13.5 mil went to Sony’s The Holiday (in 2,610 playdates), a date movie from director-writer Nancy Meyer, known for capturing that man-woman zeitgeist. The studio’s uber-marketing of this PG-13 debut (also starring Kate Winslet, Jack Black and Jude Law) helped the movie (per screen average $1,686 Friday) finish with $4.5 mil on Friday and $5.3 mil on Saturday. Expectedly, the pic was big with females (65%) and 25-and-older (57%). Finishing the weekend around $13 mil is No. 3 Happy Feet from Warner Bros — still strong four weeks out and in a whopping 3,650 venues — based on its $3.1 mil Friday and huge $6.1 mil Saturday kiddie bump. leo2.jpgThe birds’ new cume could be $138 mil. Holdover Sony’s Casino Royale took 4th place, pumping out $2.6 mil Friday and $4 mil Saturday from 3,161 theaters and what was an $8.8 mil weekend and a new cume of nearly $129 mil. Warner’s opener Blood Diamond (playing in only 1,910 theaters), made $2.6 mil Friday and $3.5 mil Saturday to put it in 5th place by weekend’s end with $8.2 mil. (The per screen average was $1,361 Friday.) Not only was this African-set action-adventure pic fought at every turn by the world diamond cartel with a multi-million-dollar PR campaign — but it’s playing in 500-to-700-to-1,500 less theaters than the other Top 5 pics. With its R-rating, this Ed Zwick-directed thriller starring Leo and Jennifer Connelly was not an easy sell in trailers and TV ads. For months now, do-good organizations like Amnesty International and Global Witness have been helping market this message movie. But its weekend take is a disappointment for the pic with a $100+ mil budget. Box office experts had expected the three opening films to battle it out all weekend with gross in the teens (as in millions), but that’s not happening. Just Friday morning, a source inside Mel’s camp told me that the director and the studio were indeed hoping for a final weekend gross around $12 million since Apocalypto’s wanna-see was tracking strongly with college kids and Latinos, and generally with young men aged 18-to-24. “It’s still a foreign film,” the insider explained to me. “Our goal here is not to open big but to keep the film around during the holiday season.” Friday’s result is exactly what Disney — which had been under pressure to dump Mel’s self-financed Mayan epic after his drunken anti-Semitic stumble — was hoping for: that apoc10.jpgGibson had become a brand name and that his The Passion of the Christ and Braveheart audiences would reward him with their moviegoing loyalty, especially the elusive Latino moviegoers (and not hold his drunken anti-Semitic ranting against him). Interestingly, a Friday night AOL poll found just that: 76% of the 85,000+ respondents saying the scandal would not affect their decision to see Apocalypto. As it is, the studio’s unusual marketing strategy for the movie — placing Mel front and center in a series of TV ads — was meant to appeal directly to this Gibson base. Also, because of the scandal surrounding Mel’s arrest, his Apocalypto had almost instantaneous public awareness. Now the film also has garnered some great reviews — enough that Disney is going out with a  newspaper ad featuring raves from Ebert & Roeper, Newsweek, The New York Times, and Wall Street Journal: it will appear in the Los Angeles Times where the vast majority of Academy Award voters reside. As for its Oscar chances, there’s little doubt that Hollywood’s Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences members, known for holding grudges, will be judging Mel the man, and not Mel’s movie. But the surprisingly good reviews, combined with the decent box office, could possibly, just possibly, cause the Oscar voters to take a look at Apocalypto on its own merits.

In other box office, Warner’s holiday pic Unaccompanied Minors opened #7 with $1.6 mil Friday but shot up to 6th place Saturday with $2.8 mil and a weekend take of $6.3 mil. Disney’s Deja Vu came in 7th; the 3-week holdover earned $1.8 mil Friday and $2.8 mil Saturday for what was a $5.9 mil weekend and a new cume around $53 mil. In the 8th spot was New Line’s disappointment at the box office, The Nativity Story which has failed to pick up any of Mel’s The Passion of the Christ momentum.: it eked out only $1.4 mil Friday and $2.2 mil Saturday its second weekend out (-40%) for what was just a $5.4 mil weekend and barely $15 mil cume. Fox’s holiday comedy Deck The Halls coughed up another #1 mil Friday and $2.7 mil Saturday for what was a $4 mil weekend and new $30 mil cume. Closing out the Top 10 was six-week holdover Disney’s Santa Clause 3, which just beat out Fox’s Borat. The Tim Allen starrer made $757K on Friday and $1.5 mil on Saturday for a $3.3 mil weekend. Whereas 11th place Fox’s Borat took in $800K Friday and $1.1 mil Saturday for another $2.5 mil weekend (six weeks out) and a new cume of $120 mil — amazing for a movie that cost just $18 mil to make.