There was no defeating the mistress of all evil this weekend.
Disney's summer tent-pole "Maleficent," the live-action film based on the fairy-tale villain from "Sleeping Beauty," took in a bigger-than-expected $70 million in ticket sales over the weekend in North America, according to an estimate from distributor Disney.
It's a solid debut for the $180 million 3-D film, which is directed by Robert Stromberg and stars Angelina Jolie in her return to the big screen as the titular character, and exceeded projections. The fast start may put "Maleficent," which pivots its lens on the wicked villain of the Disney classic to explain her evil ways, in reach of Disney's 2013 live-action feature "Oz the Great and Powerful." That film's March opening took in $79 million and would ultimately bring in a global gross of $493 million.
"Anytime you exceed an expectation, it's a happy day." said Dave Hollis, Disney's head of distribution. Hollis credited the effects-heavy look of the film, along with the writing from Linda Woolverton ("Beauty and the Beast," "Lion King") as draws. But truly casting the spell was Jolie, Hollis said.
"A big star like Angelina Jolie does really create the kind of buzz and the kind of need-to-see mentality that a big movie like this has to have in order to succeed. She transcends borders, cultures and languages.
"Maleficent," which opened in 3,948 locations, received an A on Cinemascore and 50% on Rotten Tomatoes. The film, as expected, brought out females (60%) and families (45%).
It began its overseas rollout Wednesday in 35 territories including Russia, the U.K, Brazil and Australia — with its global box-office take at $170 million when factoring in its North American numbers. It will likely continue to bring in big numbers when it makes its debut in China later this month and Japan in July.
It easily left this weekend's other new entrant, Seth MacFarlane's R-rated western comedy "A Million Ways to Die in the West," in the dust. MacFarlane's second directing effort took in $17.1 million over the weekend, falling short of initial projections that put Universal Pictures film in the $20-to-$25-million range.
"Expectations weren't great," said Nikki Rocco, Universal's president of domestic distribution. "It was not that kind of film that you expect to forge into the marketplace with whopping numbers."
It was a stunted opening for the poorly reviewed raunchy comedy that opened in 3,158 locations and cost $40 million to make. And the sendup, which stars MacFarlane alongside Charlize Theron and Liam Neeson, fell well below the $54-million debut of MacFarlane's 2012 R-rated summer box-office hit "Ted." That comedy, about a foul-mouthed teddy bear, went on to snuggle up to $549 million worldwide.
Amid the fracas, last week's victor, "X-Men: Days of Future Past" was dethroned as the box-office ruler. After grossing more than $110 million over the long Memorial Day weekend, "X-Men" fell 64% and landed in second place with $32 million, bringing its domestic box office total to an impressive $162.1 million and a global take of more than $500 million.
That left the latest re-imagining of "Godzilla," from Warner Bros. and Legendary Picture, to settle into fourth place in its third week with just over $12 million, bringing its domestic total to $175 million.