Two new 3-D films each debuted with $50 million or more at the box office this weekend, jumpstarting ticket sales at the multiplex after weeks of lackluster business.
The weekend's winner was the animated "Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted,"which opened with a healthy $60.4 million, according to an estimate from distributor Paramount Pictures. Ridley Scott's science-fiction epic "Prometheus" also got off to a good start, grossing $50 million in its first three days of release. ("Prometheus" played in 862 fewer theaters than "Madagascar 3" this weekend.)
While big-budget summer films like "Snow White and the Huntsman" and "Men in Black 3" did solid business on their opening weekends, those films did not have to go up against any other big new movies upon their debuts. As a result of the strong receipts for "Madagascar 3" and "Prometheus," ticket sales were up 29% compared with the same weekend in 2011.
The third installment in the PG-rated "Madagascar" franchise follows the beloved pack of Central Park Zoo animals to Europe, where they join a traveling circus. The movie debuted slightly behind the last entry in the series, "Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa," which opened with $63.1 million in 2008 and ultimately collected $603.9 million worldwide.
"Madagascar 3," which DreamWorks Animation spent roughly $145 million to produce, likely benefitted from the lack of family films in the marketplace recently. The last animated film to hit theaters in the U.S., "The Pirates! Band of Misfits," came out at the end of April and grossed only $28.8 million.
Like its predecessors, "Madagascar 3" was received positively by audiences, who this weekend gave the film an average grade of A, according to market research firm CinemaScore. That's the highest grade any movie in the franchise has ever received. The film also skewed younger than most of DreamWorks' films, as 28% of those who saw it were kids under the age of 12. Like many family films, pricier 3-D tickets weren't an especially popular option, as only about 45% of the film's business came from the format.
"Madagascar 3" did very well abroad this weekend, grossing $75.5 million from 28 foreign markets. Moviegoers in Russia were the most enthusiastic international audience, as the picture collected $16.5 million there and had the biggest opening day ever in the country’s history Thursday.
"Prometheus," which cost Fox about $130 million to make after tax credits, centers around a group of scientists played by the likes of Charlize Theron and Michael Fassbender who are trying to figure out the origins of the human race. Those who saw the film -- a 57% male crowd -- assigned it an average grade of B. Likely because of its R-rating, the movie attracted an older audience, 64% of whom were over the age of 25. About 54% of the film's patrons opted to shell out a few extra bucks to see the movie in 3-D.
The movie marks the best debut for director Scott in more than a decade, when his 2001 thriller "Hannibal" started off with $58 million. In recent years, the filmmaker has struggled to replicate the success of that film and 2000's"Gladiator," as movies like 2005's "Kingdom of Heaven" and 2008's "Body of Lies" never topped the $50-million mark at the domestic box office.
Overseas, the movie opened last weekend and has since grossed $91.5 million abroad. This weekend, the movie collected a so-so $39.2 million from 50 foreign countries, performing best in Australia and the United Kingdom. The film has yet to open in a few major international markets, including Brazil and Japan.
Meanwhile, Lionsgate's "The Hunger Games" crossed the $400-million milestone at the domestic box office over the weekend. After more than 11 weeks in release, the teen adventure movie grossed an additional $1.1 million this weekend, raising its total in the U.S. to $400.3 million. The movie is the second-highest-grossing movie of the year in the U.S., trailing more than $100 million behind "The Avengers."
[Updated, 11:57 a.m. June 10: With all the new competition in theaters, "Snow White and the Huntsman" didn't hold up that well during its second weekend in theaters. After debuting with a solid $56.2 million last weekend, the film saw its ticket sales tumble 59% to $23 million. The movie's worldwide total now stands at $182 million, and it cost Universal Pictures $170 million to produce and tens of millions more to market.
Here are the top 10 movies at the domestic box office, with international results when available, according to studio estimates and Rentrak:
1. "Madagascar 3" (Paramount/DreamWorks Animation): Opened with $60.4 million. $75.5 million overseas in 28 foreign markets.
2. "Prometheus" (Fox): Opened with $50 million. $39.2 million overseas in 50 foreign markets. International total: $91.5 million.
3. "Snow White and the Huntsman" (Universal): $23 million on its second weekend, down 59%. Domestic total: $98.5 million. $24.6 million overseas in 52 foreign markets. International total: $83.5 million.
4. "Men in Black 3" (Sony/Hemisphere): $13.5 million on its third weekend, down 52%. Domestic total: $135.5 million. $38.3 million overseas in 79 foreign markets. International total: $352.1 million.
5. "The Avengers" (Disney): $10.8 million on its sixth weekend, down 47%. Domestic total: $571.9 million. $7.8 million overseas in 54 foreign markets. International total: $824.4 million.
6. "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel" (Fox Searchlight/Participant): $3.2 million on its sixth weekend, down 28%. Domestic total: $31 million. $342,144 overseas in 11 foreign markets. International total: $82.8 million.
7. "What to Expect When You're Expecting" (Lionsgate/Alcon): $2.7 million on its fourth weekend, down 39%. Domestic total: $35.7 million.
8. "Battleship" (Universal): $2.3 million on its fourth weekend, down 55%. Domestic total: $59.8 million. International total: $235.6 million.
9. "The Dictator" (Paramount): $2.2 million on its fourth weekend, down 54%. Domestic total: $55.2 million. $4.9 million overseas in 32 foreign markets. International total: $70.3 million.
10. "Moonrise Kingdom" (Focus Features): $1.6 million on its third weekend, up 80%. Domestic total: $3.7 million.]
Follow Amy Kaufman on Twitter @AmyKin