LOS ANGELES — ‘‘Riddick’’ is seeing light at the box office.
The sci-fi thriller starring Vin Diesel as an intergalactic criminal with built-in night vision debuted in first place with $18.7 million, according to studio estimates Sunday. ‘‘Riddick’’ is the third installment in the series, following the $11.6 million debut of 2000’s ‘‘Pitch Black’’ and the $24.3 million launch of 2004’s ‘‘The Chronicles of Riddick.’’
‘‘Riddick,’’ which finds the alien anti-hero stranded and pursued by bounty hunters on a hostile world, served as a passion project for Diesel and series writer-director David Twohy. After the studio originally passed on funding a third chapter, the pair acquired the rights to the character from Universal and independently secured their own film financing.
‘‘I don’t think there were any mistakes made here,’’ said Nikki Rocco, head of distribution for Universal, which returned to the fold to distribute ‘‘Riddick’’ in North America. ‘‘Vin wanted to do it. He had to do it on his time. He was very, very busy with ‘Fast & Furious,’ and I think everything came together as he wanted it to come together.’’
‘‘Riddick’’ also fared well internationally, bringing in an additional $7.4 million in 22 markets such as the United Kingdom and Hong Kong.
Lee Daniels’s “The Butler’’ fell to second place with $8.9 million in its fourth weekend at the box office, bringing its total domestic haul to $91.9 million. The Spanish-language comedy ‘‘Instructions Not Included’’ earned third place in its expanded second weekend with $8.1 million, giving it a total of $20.1 million in US and Canadian theaters.
‘‘Typically, the weekend after Labor Day is one of the slowest weekends of the year,’’ said Paul Dergarabedian, box-office analyst for Hollywood.com. ‘‘By Universal releasing a brand-new sci-fi movie with one of the biggest stars in the world, they took advantage of that and came out on top with the No. 1 movie. It gave the weekend a nice boost.’’
Dergarabedian said box office totals are up more than 26 percent this weekend over last year when ‘‘The Possession’’ scared up $9.3 million in the top spot in its fourth weekend. ‘‘Riddick’’ will face stiff competition next weekend when horror sequel ‘‘Insidious: Chapter 2’’ and ‘‘The Family’’ starring Robert De Niro and Tommy Lee Jones hit theaters.