"Cinderella" brought her magic to the box office this weekend, debuting with a studio-estimated $70.1 million in the U.S. and Canada.
The Disney film edged ahead of the May 2014 release of "Maleficent," the spinoff of "Sleeping Beauty" that starred Angelina Jolie and debuted at $69.4 million. "Cinderella" became the third largest Disney opening for the month of March, behind the live-action "Alice in Wonderland," which launched with $116.1 million in 2010, and "Oz the Great and Powerful," which opened to $79.1 million in 2013.
Directed by Kenneth Branagh, "Cinderella" brings back the classic fairy tale with Lily James ("Downton Abbey") in the title role. After Cinderella's father dies, her stepmother (Cate Blanchett) treats her like a servant, and a fairy godmother (Helena Bonham Carter) steps in to help change her luck and get her to the royal ball, where Prince Charming (Richard Madden) awaits.
"The key to adapting a beloved property is to remain true to the essence of the original while creatively imagining the story in a new or fresh way," said Dave Hollis, Disney's head of distribution.
The film, which cost $95 million to make, pleased most moviegoers and earned an A grade from audience polling firm CinemaScore. The audience skewed female (66%) and young (31% ages 12 and younger). Critics on Rotten Tomatoes gave the film a solid 83% positive rating.
Internationally, the film pulled in about $62.4 million in more than 30 markets, bringing its total global haul to $132.5 million.
The fact that an estimated 20% of U.S. schools were on spring break likely helped give "Cinderella" an additional push, Hollis said. He also attributed the performance to positive word-of-mouth and promotion.
"The marketing team helped create an event around the film," Hollis said.
Coming in at second for the weekend was "Run All Night," which launched with about $11 million.
Though it scored an A-minus from CinemaScore, the film fell short of $15-million tracking expectations.
"There's a good buzz out there on the movie," said Dan Fellman, Warner Bros.' head of distribution. "I just wish it had opened up a little stronger."
The action film, which cost about $50 million to make, follows a hitman (Liam Neeson) fighting to save his son. It co-stars Joel Kinnaman and Ed Harris.
The soft opening is unusual for Neeson, whose latest action film, "Taken 3," opened with about $40 million and went on to make $88.3 million domestically. The R-rated "Run All Night" came in even lower than "A Walk Among the Tombstones," the actor's 2014 Universal Pictures film, which flopped with a $13.1-million debut and went on to gross $26.3 million domestically.
About 86% of the audience for "Run All Night" was older than 25, and 52% of moviegoers were female.
"Hopefully positive word-of-mouth will give it a good second weekend," Fellman said.
Twentieth Century Fox's "Kingsman: The Secret Service" rounded out the top three in its fifth weekend in release. Based on a comic book, "Kingsman" film follows a street kid (Taron Egerton) whom Harry Hart (Colin Firth) recruits into a secret spy organization. Samuel L. Jackson and Michael Caine also star.
The film, which has remained steady in the top five since its release, added about $6.2 million, bringing its total domestic haul to about $107.4 million.
The Will Smith romantic caper "Focus" came in fourth, adding $5.8 million and barely edging out last weekend's No. 1 film, "Chappie," according to early estimated. "Chappie" dropped 57% in ticket sales and finished fifth.
Several other films reached milestones over the weekend. Universal Pictures reported that "Fifty Shades of Grey" hit $546.5 million worldwide, making it the studio's 10th highest grossing film in global ticket sales. Disney announced that "Big Hero 6" finished as the No. 1 animated title of 2014, grossing more than $620 million globally.
The overall box office, which is up 4.3% year-to-date, will get a boost next weekend with the release of "Insurgent," the highly anticipated second film in Lionsgate's "Divergent" franchise.