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Box Office: In a surprise, 'Smurfs' rivals 'Cowboys & Aliens' [Updated]

July 31, 2011 |  9:27 am

TheSmurfs

It seemed like an uneven matchup. In one corner was "Cowboys & Aliens," one of the most expensive films to be released this year, starring and made by a handful of Hollywood A-listers. In the other: "The Smurfs," a critically panned live-action/computer-animated movie based on a cartoon that originated over 50 years ago.

Heading into the weekend, it appeared a foregone conclusion that "Cowboys & Aliens" would take the No. 1 spot at the box office. But in a surprise, the 3-D movie "The Smurfs" -- featuring a gaggle of diminutive blue cartoon characters -- sold far more tickets than pre-release polling had indicated. As a result, on Sunday the studios behind both pictures estimated that each film would collect $36.2 million domestically by weekend's end. Meanwhile, the weekend's other new wide release, the adult romantic comedy "Crazy, Stupid, Love," brought in a decent $19.3 million.

The soft opening for "Cowboys" is no doubt disappointing for the film's financial backers, Universal Pictures, Dreamworks SKG and Relativity Media, who collectively spent about $163 million to produce the movie. (Paramount Pictures is releasing the picture overseas when it begins rolling out abroad next weekend.) While the film is based on a little-read graphic novel, it also stars well-known actors Harrison Ford and Daniel Craig. The movie was executive produced by Steven Spielberg and directed by "Iron Man's" Jon Favreau, who in recent weeks has done extensive publicity to promote the film.

"Cowboys" performed about as well on its first weekend as "Super 8," one of the only other movies to be released this summer with a largely original concept. That J.J. Abrams-directed film opened to $35.5 million in June and has since grossed $181.2 million worldwide, but it only had a budget of about $50 million.

Cowboygallery "Cowboys & Aliens," which is about alien invasion in the 19th century Old West, resonated most with an older crowd, as 63% of the audience was over the age of 30. Those who saw the film -- 53% of whom were male -- gave it an average grade of B, according to market research firm CinemaScore.

"The Smurfs," meanwhile, went over better with audiences, who assigned the PG-rated film an average grade of A-. Not surprisingly, the movie -- which cost about $110 million to produce -- appealed mostly to a family audience as 65% of the crowd was comprised of parents with their children. The film didn't sell an overwhelming number of 3-D tickets, with about 45% of the crowd opting to see the film in the pricier format.

After its respectable opening, the film seems primed to follow in the footsteps of Fox's hugely successful “Alvin and the Chipmunks” series, that also stars live actors alongside animated characters. The most recent film in that franchise, "Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel," opened to $48.9 million domestically in 2009 and went on to gross $443.1 million worldwide. "The Smurfs" is already off to a better start than two similar films that were released in 2010, "Yogi Bear" and "Marmaduke," which both debuted to under $17 million.

"The Smurfs," which were originally conceived by a Belgian comic-book artist in 1958, rose to popularity stateside when they became the subject of a 1980s Saturday morning cartoon program. To make sure younger audiences were familiar with the older property, Sony teamed up with a handful of marketing partners including McDonald's, Stauffer's, Post and Toys R Us to advertise the movie. (McDonald's featured Smurfs on its Happy Meals worldwide.)

Overseas, the film opened this weekend in seven foreign markets and collected $4.4 million. The movie performed best in Spain, where it grossed $3.9 million, marking the eighth-biggest debut of the year in that nation.

"Crazy, Stupid, Love," in which a middle-aged man played by Steve Carell is taught how to pick up women, cost Warner Bros. about $45 million to make. The film, which also stars Ryan Gosling and has received largely positive reviews, was given an average grade of B+ by those who saw it. The movie appealed most to a largely older crowd, as 71% of the audience was 25 or above.

[Updated, 12:52 p.m. July 31: "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows -- Part 2" has crossed the $1-billion mark at the global box office, making it the first film in the franchise about the boy wizard to pass that benchmark. The eighth and final installment in the "Harry Potter" series passed the milestone on Sunday, and becomes the ninth film in history to gross more than $1 billion worldwide.

Here are the top 10 movies at the domestic box office, with international grosses when available, according to studio estimates and Hollywood.com:

1. "The Smurfs" (Sony): Opened to $36.2 million. $4.4 million overseas in seven foreign markets.

1. "Cowboys & Aliens" (Universal/Relativity/DreamWorks): Opened to $36.2 million.

3. "Captain America: The First Avenger" (Paramount/Marvel): $24.9 million on its second weekend, down 62%. $48.5 million overseas in 31 foreign markets. Domestic total: $116.8 million. International total: $53.5 million.

4. "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows -- Part 2" (Warner Bros.): $21.9 million on its third weekend, down 54%. $66.4 million overseas in 59 foreign markets. Domestic total: $318.5 million. International total: $690 million.

5. "Crazy, Stupid, Love" (Warner Bros.): Opened to $19.3 million.

6. "Friends with Benefits" (Sony): $9.3 million on its second weekend, down 50%. $3.7 million overseas in nine foreign markets. Domestic total: $38.2 million. International total: $3.8 million.

7. "Horrible Bosses" (Warner Bros.): $7.1 million on its fourth weekend, down 40%. $4.1 million overseas in 20 foreign markets. Domestic total: $96.2 million. International total: $13.5 million.

8. "Transformers: Dark of the Moon" (Paramount): $5.8 million on its fifth weekend, down 50%. $42 million overseas in 61 foreign markets. Domestic total: $337.9 million. International total: $645 million.

9. "Zookeeper" (MGM/Sony): $4.2 million on its fourth weekend, down 52%. $7.7 million overseas in 37 foreign markets. Domestic total: $68.7 million.  International total: $42.1 million.

10. "Cars 2" (Disney/Pixar): $2.3 million on its sixth weekend, down 59%. $30 million overseas in 30 foreign markets. Domestic total: $182.1 million. International total: $218 million.]

RELATED:

'Cowboys & Aliens' will trample 'Smurfs'

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Box office: 'Captain America' strong arms 'Harry Potter'

-- Amy Kaufman

twitter.com/AmyKinLA

Top photo: "The Smurfs." Credit: Sony

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