Exorcist: The Beginning: According to The Hollywood Reporter, Warner Bros. Pictures' Exorcist: The Beginning levitated an estimated $18.2 million in boxoffice receipts to possess the top spot this weekend, surprising industry observers with a stronger-than-anticipated opening.

The prequel and fourth film of the franchise, helmed by Renny Harlin and produced by Morgan Creek, had the best debut among all the Exorcist films. The R-rated "Exorcist" held sway at the head of a rather bunched-up group of films with no one picture breaking out as the top six grossed between $10 million-$18 million. After the best first half in history, the summer boxoffice season continues to nose-dive. The estimated total for this session's top 12 films was $103 million -- down 22% compared with the 13th weekend of last summer. Last summer posted the biggest final three weeks ever for the season, which helped push the year's tally to record heights in both boxoffice and admissions.

Thanks to the strong start, the summer-to-date is holding on to a slight lead over last year at this time. But with just two weekends left, that tenuous lead could evaporate if things don't turn around. Entering the marketplace with much lighter fare, Paramount's Without a Paddle arrived at the high end of expectations. The PG-13-rated comedy, starring Seth Green, Dax Shepard and Matthew Lillard and directed by Steven Brill, placed second with an estimated $13.7 million.

Brian B.