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'Spider-Man' can't hang with 'Neighbors' at the box office

R-rated comedy 'Neighbors' debuts with a surprisingly strong $51 million at the box office this weekend

Executives at Universal Pictures may be breaking out the red plastic cups.

The studio's R-rated comedy "Neighbors" far exceeded industry expectations at the domestic box office this weekend, debuting with $51.1 million, according to an estimate from Universal. Heading into the weekend, prerelease audience surveys indicated the flick starring Seth Rogen and Zac Efron would be in a tight race for No. 1 with "The Amazing Spider-Man 2." Both films had been projected to gross roughly $40 million apiece.

Instead, the superhero sequel saw its ticket sales tumble 59% to $37.2 million in its second weekend in release. After 10 days in theaters, the film has grossed $147.9 million -- lagging behind the first film in Marc Webb's Spidey franchise, which had collected $165.9 million at this point in 2012.

"Neighbors" marks another win for Rogen following last summer's hit "This is the End," an apocalypse comedy he co-wrote, co-directed and starred in that collected just over $100 million. He served as a producer on "Neighbors," in which he plays a dad who moves in next door to a riotous frat house with his wife (Rose Byrne) and newborn. 

The film's strong opening also bodes well for Efron, who has had a tough year in the public eye due to a struggle with substance abuse. Though he has been a teen pinup favorite since his breakout role in the "High School Musical" series, the 26-year-old has had trouble proving himself as a legitimate box office draw. "Neighbors" is by far his best opening ever -- not counting the animated film "The Lorax," in which he voiced a character -- and a huge improvement over the January film he produced and starred in, "That Awkward Moment," which grossed a total of only $26 million.

“He’s been in a lot of movies -- we had him in ‘Charlie St. Cloud,’ and I liked him in that, but the picture didn’t work to this level,” said Nikki Rocco, Universal’s president of domestic distribution, referring to the actor’s 2010 weepy drama. “He really shines in this.”

Most critics were kind to "Neighbors," as the film has notched a 74% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Those who saw the picture this weekend gave it an average grade of B, according to market research firm CinemaScore. The film appealed to a broad audience, as male and female moviegoers came out in nearly equal measure: 53% of the crowd was female, the same percentage that was over the age of 25.

“The appeal is not what you would think it would be for a raunchy comedy -- which is heavily young male,” added Rocco, whose studio financed the picture for a modest $18 million. “I think that has a lot to do with Rose Byrne and the fact that it’s about a family with a baby.”

Overseas, where the film is known in many countries as "Bad Neighbors," the picture was No. 1 in 17 of the 29 locations where it debuted. The majority of the movie's $34.4-million international total came from Britain and Australia.

Meanwhile, "Spider-Man 2" continues to perform well abroad. This weekend, the film starring Andrew Garfield passed the $400-million milestone, taking in an additional $69.5 million. In China, where the last Spidey film did its best foreign business, the sequel has already made $54 million. With a current international total of $403 million, there's a strong chance the film will exceed the $490 million the 2012 film made abroad -- a necessity for backer Sony Pictures, since the film is not doing as well as the first in the U.S. and Canada.

Back in the States, two other films debuted this weekend to disappointing results. The animated film "Legends of Oz: Dorothy's Return," based on the books by L. Frank Baum's great-grandson, opened with a dismal $3.7 million. The picture, which features the voices of well-known actors such as Lea Michele and Dan Aykroyd, cost a whopping $70 million to produce. 

The 3-D film was expected to start off with at least $12 million, but ended up grossing even less than "Moms' Night Out" -- a PG-rated family film playing in about 1,500 fewer theaters. Produced by the faith-based Affirm Media and distributed by Sony, "Moms' Night Out" opened with $4.2 million. The film, which had a budget of $5 million, follows a group of mothers whose husbands watch after their kids for an evening; its most-recognizable star is Patricia Heaton from the sitcoms "Everybody Loves Raymond" and "The Middle."

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