"Snow White and the Huntsman" easily made it out of the woods at the box office this weekend, as the film's debut far exceeded industry projections.
The fairy-tale adaptation opened with a surprisingly robust $56.3 million, according to an estimate from distributor Universal Pictures — about $10 million more than pre-release audience surveys had indicated the film would bring in on its first weekend in release.
That meant that of the two films based on "Snow White" to hit theaters this year, "Huntsman" was the fairest of them all. Back in March, Relativity Media's bouncier family version "Mirror Mirror," starring Julia Roberts and Lily Collins, debuted with a weak $18 million and collected $62 million by the end of its run.
"Snow White and the Huntsman," featuring "Twilight"star Kristen Stewart and Charlize Theron, has a darker tone than "Mirror Mirror." Universal also spent much more to produce "Snow White" — about $170 million, compared with a $100-million budget for the Relativity film.
The movie's respectable opening is welcome positive news for Universal, which is coming off the disastrous box-office performance of its $209-million production "Battleship." Behind the Navy action flick, "Snow White" is the most expensive movie the studio is releasing in 2012 and part of a strategy to spend more on films that will appeal to a global audience.
Those who saw "Snow White" in the U.S. this weekend gave the film an average grade of B, according to market research firm CinemaScore. Roughly 52% of the movie's audience was over the age of 30, which could bode well for Stewart's career. Before "Snow White," the actress had yet to appear in any major film outside of the massively popular "Twilight" series. With the vampire franchise coming to a close this fall, "Snow White" is the first indication that the 22-year-old has appeal outside of the young female "Twilight" fan base.
Overseas, "Snow White" debuted in 45 foreign countries and sold $39.3 million worth of tickets. It had the strongest debut in the United Kingdom, where the picture grossed $5.5 million, and also did well in Spain and Mexico.
Although the film performed solidly abroad, it didn't do as well as Ridley Scott's "Prometheus," the sci-fi movie which hits U.S. theaters next weekend. Playing in 15 foreign markets, the 3-D film collected $35 million and was No. 1 in 14 countries. The movie, which stars an ensemble cast including Theron, Michael Fassbender and Noomi Rapace, sold the most tickets in Russia — $11.1 million. Next weekend, the picture will open in 35 additional international locations, including Australia and Taiwan.
Meanwhile, "The Avengers" passed the final installment of "Harry Potter" to become the third-highest-grossing film of all time, not adjusting for inflation. With its $1.4-billion worldwide sum, the picture has now only made less than James Cameron's "Avatar" and "Titanic."
A smaller film, however, didn't have as much success at the box office this weekend. The Weinstein Co.'s garish horror sequel "Piranha 3DD" debuted in 86 cinemas this weekend and grossed a dismal $179,000. Those opening-weekend figures indicate the film won't come near to making the $83 million"Piranha 3D" grossed worldwide in 2010.
[Updated, 11:48 a.m. June 3: "Men in Black 3" had a solid second weekend in theaters, with its ticket sales dropping 46% to $29.3 million. But the movie is performing far better overseas, where the third installment in the sci-fi comedy franchise has already raked in over $275 million. Moviegoers in China and Russia — where 3-D and special effects are especially popular — are so far most interested in seeing the picture abroad.
Here are the top 10 movies at the domestic box office, with international results when available, according to studio estimates and Rentrak:
1. "Snow White and the Huntsman" (Universal): Opened with $56.3 million. $39.3 million overseas in 45 foreign markets.
2. "Men in Black 3" (Sony/Hemisphere Media Capital): $29.3 million on its second weekend, down 46%. Domestic total: $112.3 million. $79.1 million overseas in 90 foreign markets. International total: $275.4 million.
3. "The Avengers" (Disney): $20.3 million on its fifth weekend, down 45%. Domestic total: $552.7 million. $12.4 million overseas in 54 foreign markets. International total: $802.5 million.
4. "Battleship" (Universal): $4.8 million on its third weekend, down 56%. Domestic total: $55.1 million. $1.5 million overseas in 37 foreign markets. International total: $235 million.
5. "The Dictator" (Paramount): $4.7 million on its third weekend, down 49%. Domestic total: $50.8 million. $6.5 million overseas in 30 foreign markets. International total: $60.6 million.
6. "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel" (Fox Searchlight/Mandate): $4.6 million on its fifth weekend, down 28%. Domestic total: $25.5 million. $557,025 in 13 foreign markets. International total: $82.2 million.
7. "What to Expect When You're Expecting"(Lionsgate/Alcon): $4.4 million on its third weekend, down 38%. Domestic total: $30.7 million.
8. "Dark Shadows" (Warner Bros./Village Roadshow): $3.9 million on its fourth weekend, down 49%. Domestic total: $70.8 million. $7.2 million overseas in 52 foreign markets. International total: $120.5 million.
10. "For Greater Glory" (Arc Entertainment): Opened with $1.8 million.]
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Follow Amy Kaufman on Twitter @AmyKinLA