"Snow White and the Huntsman" roared out of the gate with a $20.3 million Friday, signaling it will take in around $55 million and claim the weekend box office crown.
That whooshing sound you heard could be the sound of Universal execs exhaling. In the wake of its misfire with its last tentpole movie "Battleship," the strong performance of "Snow White" has to be welcome. The film has a production budget estimated at $170 million an the studio has already committed to developing a sequel.
Also read: Comcast chief Admits 'Battleship' a Bomb
"Snow White" opened in 45 overseas countries too, and took in $39.3 million Friday. That's in the same ballpark as "Twilight" ($30.1M) and "The Hunger Games" ($37.8M) in a similar array of territories.
Disney's "The Avengers" continued to break records. It rang up $5.6 million in the U.S. on Friday, lifting its overall domestic gross to $538.1 million. That puts it in front of "The Dark Knight" ($533M) as the No. 3 U.S. film all-time.
The Marvel superhero saga also became the third-biggest grosser ever at the worldwide box office at $1.331 billion, passing "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2" ($1.328B).
Sony's "Men in Black 3," last week's No. 1 movie, took in $8.3 million Friday, putting it on track for a weekend in the $29 million range and the runner-up spot.
Dimension's "Piranha 3DD" managed just $63,000 on its 86 screens.
On the indie front, The Weinstein Co.'s "The Intouchables" expanded from four to 50 theaters and took in $78,279, or 1,566 per screen.
"Snow White and the Huntsman," featuring Kristen Stewart in her first post-"Twilight" role, takes aim at box-office champ "Men in Black 3" this weekend.
It will be a fairy tale ending, say the analysts, who project that Universal's "Snow White" will ring up between $42 million and $50 million and knock "MIB 3" from its perch.
Oscar winner Charlize Theron and Chris Hemsworth co-star in this dark fantasy epic. Britain's Rupert Sanders, known for his work in commercials and short subjects, directs from a script written by Evan Daugherty. It's produced by Joe Roth, who also produced "Alice in Wonderland," and Sam Mercer ("Sixth Sense).
Also read: 'Snow White and the Huntsman' Review: Theron Chews All Scenery Except the Mirror
"This has the potential to be a four-quadrant hit," Jeff Bock, senior analyst at Exhibitor Relations, told TheWrap Thursday, referring to young and older males and young and older females. "But that's a double-edge sword, because to really succeed, it probably needs to click with all of those demos."
The plot features an empowered Snow, having learned the arts of war from The Huntsman (Hemsworth) sent to kill her, leading a revolution against the Queen (Theron). With its darker theme, audiences should have no problem differentiating Universal's PG-13 film from "Mirror, Mirror," the Julia Roberts fantasy comedy that Relativity released in March.
"Snow White" will provide a gauge of Stewart's star power at the box office. She is expected to draw females; whether they'll bring their boyfriends and husbands remains to be seen.
"We're encouraged because that's where the tracking has been trending up," Nikki Rocco, president of Universal Pictures distribution, told TheWrap Thursday. "We're really proud of this film and think that once it hits the marketplace, it will speak for itself."
Universal, which misfired with its most recent tentpole "Battleship," has a lot riding on "Snow White." It has a production budget estimated at $170 million and the studio has committed to developing a sequel. The film is opening in 3,772 theaters in the U.S. on Friday, along with 45 international territories.
The studio's marketing seems to be clicking in terms of social media. "Snow White" already has more than 900,000 likes on Facebook, and that's significant, Phil Contrino, editor of Boxoffice.com, told TheWrap Thursday.
"It's the young adult crowd, and it seems to be gathering momentum just before the opening," he said. That's in spite of the critics. Metacritic.com gives "Snow White" a 59 rating, while just 48 percent of the reviews on Rotten Tomatoes are positive.
Sony's sci-fi sequel "Men in Black 3" is expected to come in at No. 2 with around $28 million, a roughly 50 percent drop from its three-day opening last weekend. The film has grossed $78.8 million so far, $212 million worldwide.
Disney's "The Avengers" will likely be No. 3 this week, with analysts suggesting it will take in another $22 million in its fifth week. The Marvel superhero saga is closing in on "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows," Part 2" for the No.3 spot on the all-time global grosses list. "Deathly Hallows" stands at $1.32 billion, while "The Avengers" is at $1.31 billion.
Also bowing this week is "For Greater Glory," which chronicles Mexico's Cristeros War of the 1920s, touched off by a rebellion against the government's attempt to secularize the country.
Arc Entertainment will open the movie in 757 theaters this weekend. Andy Garcia, Oscar Isaac, Peter O'Toole and Eva Longoria star in the R-rated film, written by Michael Love and directed by Dean Wright.
Dimension, the genre arm of the Weinstein Co., is bowing "Piranha 3DD" in 86 theaters. It's a sequel to TWC's 2010 "Piranha," which did $25 million domestically and another $58 million overseas in 2010, but no one is expecting returns like that for this film.
The critics have come after it like, well, piranhas. Just 17 percent of the reviews cited by Rotten Tomatoes are positive.