In one of the biggest surprise box-office finishes of the summer, Sony's Belgium-based blue-troll movie "The Smurfs" over-performed and tied Universal's genre mix-up "Cowboys and Aliens" this weekend, with both films registering about $36.2 million in ticket sales, according to preliminary estimates.
Touting a high-profile roster of producers including Steven Spielberg and Ron Howard, and directed by Jon Favreau, "Cowboys and Aliens" had been projected to take in somewhere between $40 million to $45 million.
"I am stunned that people aren't embracing this film more than they are," said a senior studio executive who declined to be quoted on the record.
Box office trackers for "Smurfs," meanwhile, had expected an opening in the $25 million to $30 million range.
"I definitely think people underestimated us on this," said Rory Bruer, president of worldwide distribution for Sony Pictures, which produced the $110 million CGI/life-action movie inhouse.
"If you had told me at the beginning of the summer that this would be one of the biggest surprises, I'd have said you were crazy," added a rival-studio distribution executive.
One other movie opened wide at the weekend box office: Warner ensemble comedy "Crazy, Stupid, Love" grossed $19.3 million, soundly beating pre-release forecasts.
Here's how the top 10 finished. Full report continues below chart:
A flurry of limited releases, meanwhile, was led by Miranda July's "The Future," which grossed a very solid $28,185 playing at New York's IFC Center. The Roadside Attractions-distributed film was sold out for Friday and Saturday evening engagements and will open in Los Angeles, Boston, Chicago and Washington, D.C. next weekend.
Sony Classics' Sundance acquisition "The Guard" grossed $80,398 at four locations, averaging a strong $20,100.
Lionsgate's Lee Tamahori-directed "The Devil's Double" grossed $95,000 at five locations for an also-strong $19,000-per-engagement average.
Also, Sony Screen Gems opened "Attack the Block" at eight locations, averaging $16,306 per theater.
But the big stories were "Cowboys and Aliens" and "Smurfs."
Starring Daniel Craig and Harrison Ford, and with Favreau giving the film about as much marketing support as any director can, "Cowboys'" concept — while construed as awkward by some — did promise to break up the monotony of sequels and super-heroes that have over-run the summer.
Audiences have not embraced the 2D film, however, evidenced partly be the B grade from research firm Cinemascore. About 63 percent of the movie's audience was over the age of 30.
The film was shot on a $163 million budget, according to its studio.
"Smurfs," meanwhile, commanded an A Cinemascore, with 65 percent of the audience comprised of parents taking their kids.
About 45 percent of "Smurfs'" box office revenue came from 3D presentations — which maybe weren't needed.
A 2D presentation Saturday of the movie at Pacific Theaters' Culver City, Calif. location — walking distance from the Sony lot — yielded a standing ovation.
"We've always been bullish on this film," noted Bruer.
Finishing in third place at the domestic box office, Marvel/Paramount's "Captain America: The First Avenger" dropped a big 62 percent from its premiere week, grossing just $24.9 million. However, the superhero movie also grossed $48.5 million playing at 4,254 locations spread across 31 foreign territories.
Warner's "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2" addded $21.9 million to its domestic bounty, which now stands at $318.5 million. The film has grossed more than $960 million worldwide and should pass the $1 billion mark sometime this week.
Here's how the top 10 finished:
"Cowboys & Aliens" ($36.2m)
"The Smurfs" ($36.2m)
"Captain America: The First Avenger" ($24.9m)
"Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2" ($21.9m)
"Crazy, Stupid, Love" ($19.3m)
"Friends With Benefits" ($9.3m)
"Horrible Bosses" ($7.1m)
"Transformers: Dark of the Moon" ($6.0m)
"Cars 2" ($2.3m)