Though quaint by today's standards, the computer-graphic effects in the original "Tron" were cutting-edge at the time. Yet the movie was a box-office underachiever whose following somehow swelled in the intervening decades in a way that perplexed even the studio's executives.
"I sure wish I knew, because there is a very, very committed core group of people who just love that movie, and they have fanned the opening-weekend grosses," said Chuck Viane, head of distribution for Disney.
Other newcomers premiered with modest to poor receipts, continuing a sluggish end to Hollywood's year.
The weekend proved no picnic for Dan Aykroyd's family flick "Yogi Bear," which fell flat at a weak No. 2 with $16.7 million. The Warner Bros. release features the voices of Aykroyd and Justin Timberlake in an adaptation of the TV cartoon about the picnic-basket-thieving bear.
With children out of school over the holidays, Warner Bros. executives hope "Yogi Bear" will hold up well through Christmas and New Year's.
"We wish it had been a bit higher, but we'll catch up as we get going," said Jeff Goldstein, the studio's general sales manager.
The previous weekend's top movie, 20th Century Fox's "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader," fell to No. 3 with $12.4 million, raising its total to $42.7 million.
Mark Wahlberg and Christian Bale's acclaimed boxing drama "The Fighter" had a so-so expansion nationwide after a stellar debut in limited release the previous weekend for the tale based on the life of real-life fighter Micky Ward. Released by Paramount, "The Fighter" came in at No. 4 with $12.2 million.
Reese Witherspoon's love-triangle romance "How Do You Know" was a dud with just $7.6 million, the Sony release opening at No. 8. The movie co-stars Owen Wilson, Paul Rudd and Jack Nicholson.
Overall revenues slipped to $134 million, down 2.6 percent from the same weekend last year, when "Avatar" debuted with $77 million on its way to becoming the biggest modern blockbuster with a $2.8 billion worldwide haul.
Considering the huge gap between the "Avatar" revenues and those for "Tron: Legacy," Hollywood's general business held up fairly well because of this year's diverse undercard of new movies and holdovers.
"We weren't down that badly," said Paul Dergarabedian, box-office analyst for Hollywood.com. "Last year, it was pretty much that one film. `Avatar' so heavily dominated that marketplace, which was great for `Avatar,' but for the other movies there wasn't much there."
"The King's Speech," a Weinstein Co. release that led Golden Globe contenders Tuesday with seven nominations, remained a strong earner as it continued its gradual expansion in limited release.
The film starring Colin Firth as Queen Elizabeth II's father, a reluctant king coping with a debilitating stammer, took in $1.1 million in 43 theaters, averaging a healthy $25,000 a cinema.
That compared to a $12,634 average in 3,451 theaters for "Tron: Legacy"; $4,752 in 3,515 cinemas for "Yogi Bear"; $4,874 in 2,503 locations for "The Fighter"; and $3,061 in 2,483 places for "How Do You Know."
Fox Searchlight's ballet drama "Black Swan," another top Globe nominee starring Natalie Portman, climbed the chart as it expanded into nationwide release with $8.3 million in 959 theaters, averaging $8,655 and coming in at No. 7.
In limited release, Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart's somber drama "Rabbit Hole" opened solidly with $55,000 in five theaters, averaging $11,000. The film, which earned Kidman a Globe nomination, centers on a couple struggling in their marriage after losing their young son in a traffic accident.
Estimated ticket sales for Friday through Sunday at U.S. and Canadian theaters, according to Hollywood.com. Final figures will be released Monday.
1. "Tron: Legacy," $43.6 million.
2. "Yogi Bear," $16.7 million.
3. "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader," $12.4 million.
4. "The Fighter," $12.2 million.
5. "The Tourist," $8.7 million.
6. "Tangled," $8.68 million.
7. "Black Swan," $8.3 million.
8. "How Do You Know," $7.6 million.
9. "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1," $4.8 million.
10. "Unstoppable," $1.8 million.