Adventure fantasies with conservative values are maintaining their grip on American movie audiences.

 Image from 'Hellboy II: The Golden Army'

Opening its theatrical run with a very strong first weekend, Hellboy II: The Golden Army brought in $35.9 million in estimated U.S. box office receipts. That’s $12.7 million more than Hellboy took in on its opening weekend (more than a 50 percent bump—very impressive, and indicative of the first Hellboy‘s long-term audience appeal). It was good enough for a first-place finish this time around.

Directed and written by the talented Guillermo del Toro (Hellboy, Pan’s Labyrinth), the film tells the story of a demon fighting to save the world from a "golden army" of invincible mechanical soldiers led by a mad, power-hungry elf. Despite the highly fanciful nature of the story line and bizarre characters, the film shows a real concern for its characters, and del Toro makes sure they become real enough to us so that what happens to them really matters.

Although the action is big and the events world-shaking, del Toro never loses sight of what’s really important: individuals and the choices they make.

Coming in second over the weekend was Hancock, which totaled $33 million. That’s an impressive amount, as it’s less than a 50 percent dropoff from the film’s first-weekend take, which is an unusual and highly desired achievement. Clearly Smith’s appeal and the movie’s thematic strength (see last Monday’s article on the film) overcame the generally poor reviews it received.

Also in the adventure-fantasy realm was Journey to the Center of the Earth, starring Brendan Fraser, best known for his performances in the Mummy movies. This 3-D adaptation of the charming and wholesome Jules Verne novel brought in a solid $20.6 million.

Eddie Murphy’s Meet Dave was the only prominent release to stumble, snagging only $5.3 million, in seventh place for the weekend. That’s very poor for an Eddie Murphy movie, and it appears that the concept—Murphy as a miniature space alien humanoid trapped on earth—just didn’t grab people. Even though the competition was strong, the film’s poor take makes it likely theaters will start dropping it, thus pushing its performance even lower.

Interestingly, The Incredible Hulk fell out of the top ten, during the same week in its run that its predecessor, Ang Lee’s Hulk, fell out, and has earned almost exactly the same amount of money in its fifth weekend—$129.8 million versus $128.1 million. The lesson must be that people just don’t like the Hulk character as much as they like most other Marvel heroes.

That’s particularly notable when the protagonist of the week’s hottest movie is a demon and the number two film is about an ill-tempered superman.