The horror tale "Seed of Chucky," a follow-up to the "Child's Play" movies about a bloodthirsty doll, debuted in fifth with $8.8 million.
Hollywood broke out of a box-office slump that has lingered most of the fall. The top 12 movies took in $136 million, up 11 percent from the same weekend last year.
Pixar Animation's "The Incredibles," about a family of superheroes pressed into action after years of civilian life, lifted its 10-day total to $144.1 million. That matched the 10-day total of Pixar's "Finding Nemo," which went on to gross $340 million last year.
The film's revenues held up strongly, down just 28 percent from its opening-weekend gross, indicating it should have a strong shelf life through the holidays.
"I've always learned not to make long-range forecasts, but this is obviously going to go on to be a huge success," said Chuck Viane, head of distribution for Disney, which released "The Incredibles." "If it happens to mirror 'Nemo,' that would be the best of all worlds for us."
"The Polar Express," based on the children's book about a boy's train trip to the North Pole, has grossed $30.8 million since opening Wednesday. Directed by Robert Zemeckis, the movie features Tom Hanks in multiple roles, including Santa.
With a reportedly $170 million budget, "The Polar Express" needs strong holdover business through the holidays to avoid becoming a box-office train wreck.
The movie received wildly mixed reviews: Some critics called it a potential Christmas classic and others said its hyper-realistic human figures resembled dead-eyed zombies.
Distributor Warner Bros. is confident "The Polar Express" will follow the usual pattern of Christmas family flicks, holding up well through Thanksgiving weekend and beyond, said Dan Fellman, the studio's head of distribution.
"Momentum for us is on the climb, which is exactly what our strategy was, to get ourselves some money in the bank and have some great word of mouth before we really hit the holidays," Fellman said.
"The Polar Express" also should become a perennial revenue producer on video and television in future holiday seasons, Fellman said.
Two limited-release films debuted strongly in New York City and Los Angeles. Johnny Depp's "Finding Neverland," in which he plays "Peter Pan" creator J.M. Barrie, grossed $240,016 in eight theaters. Liam Neeson's "Kinsey," a film biography of sexuality researcher Alfred Kinsey, premiered with $175,026 in five theaters.
Estimated ticket sales for Friday through Sunday at North American theaters, according to Exhibitor Relations Co. Inc. Final figures will be released Monday.
1. "The Incredibles," $51 million.
2. "The Polar Express," $23.5 million.
3. "After the Sunset," $11.5 million.
4. "Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason," $8.9 million
5. "Seed of Chucky," $8.8 million.
6. "Ray," $8.4 million.
7. "The Grudge," $7.1 million.
8. "Saw," $6.4 million.
9. "Shall We Dance?" $4.1 million.
10. "Alfie," $2.8 million.