Family audiences turned out in droves for "Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted," pushing the DreamWorks Animation CGI sequel to a better-than-expected $60.3 million weekend at the U.S. box office.
Big turnouts on Saturday and Sunday pushed it past Fox and Ridley Scott's "Prometheus," which had led after taking in $21.4 million Friday, and went on to an impressive $50 million for the weekend.
"Madagascar 3" also hauled in $75.5 million from 28 overseas territories in its first weekend — including an eye-popping $16.5 million from Russia — making it the weekend's No. 1 film worldwide. It added $11 million from Brazil and $10.5 million from China.
With no real family film in the U.S. marketplace since April, "Madagascar 3' plainly filled a box-office void. Both movies delivered on the high end of expectations, particularly the R-rated "Prometheus," in a busy weekend at the cineplexes.
"Madagascar 3" turned in the biggest debut weekend in the franchise history, and the best opening for DreamWorks Animation since "Shrek 4" bowed to $70 million in 2008.
"The release date worked great for us," DWA's chief marketing office Ann Globe told TheWrap Sunday, "particularly for parents."
"Madagascar 3" was a hit with audiences, which were 56 percent female and 54 percent under 25. They gave it an "A" CinemaScore. It's been nearly four years since the last "Madagascar" film and the numbers suggest it not only connected with earlier fans but made some new ones.
"I think the critics and the audiences see this as the best film of the group," Globe continued. "We added some new characters to what was already a robust group and I think that made a difference."
"Madagascar 3" follows the gang, refugees from a New York zoo, as they try to make their way back to the Big Apple from Europe and join a traveling circus. Frances McDormand, Jessica Chastain, Bryan Cranston and Martin Short have joined the voice cast, along with returnees Chris Rock, Ben Stiller, Jada Pinkett Smith and David Schwimmer. Noah Baumbach ("Fantastic Mr. Fox") comes aboard as a co-writer with Eric Darnell, who directs. The film cost $145 million to produce, the studio said.
The film's extensive promotional tie-ins — including a million branded Dole bananas — helped increase awareness, too. It played at 4,258 locations, and about 45 percent of its returns came from 3D screens.
Globe declined to discuss the possibility of another "Madagascar" sequel, but its franchise-best debut plainly bodes well.
Big screens played a big part in the success of "Prometheus," with nearly a quarter of its grosses coming from 3D screens. It took in $9.1 million from the 298 Imax screens it played on domestically, and another $4.8 million from 94 overseas Imax screens.
"This movie was visually stunning, and tailor-made for the so-called 'premium experience,'" Fox's head of distribution Chris Aronson told TheWrap Sunday.
Fox marketers clearly expanded the film's appeal beyond the fan boy base. Males made up 57 percent of the audience, but that's a solid female turnout, too. Nearly 65 percent of the audience was over 25.
"I think we did a great job selling the film, but you had to start with phenomenal storytellers and filmmakers in Ridley Scott and Damon Lindelof," Aronson said, "and we had a great cast. It's hard to imagine anyone else in those roles."
"Prometheus" is set in the 21st Century and chronicles the journey of spaceship crew following a star map discovered among the remnants of several ancient Earth civilizations. Seeking the origins of humanity, they instead discover a threat that could cause the extinction of the human race.
Scott produced and directed from a script co-written by Lindelof ("Lost") and Jon Spaihts. Noomi Rapace, Michael Fassbender, Charlize Theron, Idris Elba and Guy Pearce star. Lindelof and Tony Scott are also producers. The studio put the production budget at $130 million.
"Prometheus" added another $39.2 million overseas, on 8,263 screens in 50 markets. That gives it an overall international gross of $91.5 million in two weeks.
Last week's No. 1 film, Universal's "Snow White and the Huntsman" was third with $23 million from 3,777 theaters. That gives it $98.5 million overall domestically. It also took in $24.6 million from 52 foreign territories, giving it an $83.5 million overseas total gross.
No. 4 was "Men in Black 3," which took in $13.5 million from 3,792 locations for Sony, raising its overall domestic haul to $135.5 million. It added another $38.3 million overseas from 79 markets this weekend, giving it an overall foreign gross of $352.1, surpassing the original film as the franchise's biggest overseas earner.
Disney's "The Avengers" continued assembling cash in its sixth week, adding $10.8 million from 3,129 locations to up its overall domestic gross to $571.9 million, No. 3 on the all-time list behind only "Avatar" ($761 million) and "Titanic" ($659 million).
Marvel's superhero saga became the first movie to make more than $200 million in Latin America while adding another $7.8 million overseas this weekend. That brings its foreign overall gross to $824.4 million and its worldwide total to $1.39 billion, No. 3 all-time in that category as well, again behind "Avatar" and "Titanic."
"Battleship" added $2.3 million playing at 1,954 theaters, giving it a $59.8 overall tally in the U.S., a small part of its $295.4 million overall worldwide gross.
Focus Features expanded Wes Anderson's "Moonrise Kingdom" into 96 theaters and took in $1.5 million, a per screen average of $16,443, good enough for the No. 10 spot.
Next week, Sony and Columbia open Adam Sandler's "That's My Boy" and Warner Bros. and New Line check in with "Rock of Ages."