UPDATE 1-'Avengers' outguns 'Battleship' at box offices

Sun May 20, 2012 2:05pm EDT

By Piya Sinha-Roy and Lisa Richwine

LOS ANGELES May 20 (Reuters) - New action movie "Battleship" collided with Iron Man, The Hulk and the rest of "The Avengers" this weekend at movie theater box offices, and the super heroes came out on top.

"Avengers" from Walt Disney Co's Marvel Studios added an estimated $55.1 million to its U.S. and Canadian ticket sales and held the No. 1 box office spot for the third straight weekend, according to studio forecasts on Sunday.

The strong performance left big-budget "Battleship," which launched in theaters on Friday, drifting in second place with $25.3 million. Final figures will be released on Monday.

Since it opened overseas in late April, "Avengers" has dominated movie theater box offices worldwide. Global sales for the film that unites a squadron of Marvel super heroes in a battle against evil reached $1.18 billion through Sunday, making it the biggest Disney release ever, the studio said.

Steady interest in "The Avengers" likely took business from "Battleship," an effects-filled $209-million production inspired by a Hasbro board game. Ahead of the weekend, box office forecasters projected at least $30 million for "Battleship" in its North American (U.S. and Canadian) debut.

"We're disappointed obviously, there are a lot of factors going into this including the juggernaut 'Avengers' ... it's taking a big chunk out of the marketplace," Nikki Rocco, president of domestic distribution at Universal Pictures, told Reuters.

"As a studio, it's not a disaster but as a domestic opening, it's softer than we could have hoped for ... the (audience) attention span is unfortunately altered when you have a juggernaut like 'Avengers,'" Rocco added.

The movie stars Taylor Kitsch and Alexander Skarsgard as Navy officers engaged in a battle at sea against alien invaders. The U.S. Navy provided ships and crew members for the film.

Universal Pictures released "Battleship" overseas weeks ago. International sales since the April 11 debut reached $226.8 million through Sunday, the studio said. Combined, global ticket sales for "Battleship" stand at $252.1 million.

In third place for the weekend, comedian Sacha Baron Cohen's satire, "The Dictator," earned $17.4 million domestically over the weekend. The movie opened on Wednesday last week, and its five-day total came in at $24.4 million.

"We're ecstatic about that result. It's a fantastic start for us and we couldn't be more pleased ... for us to think we could beat 'Borat,' that was a pretty high goal ... hopefully we have a shot getting to 'Borat' numbers based on the opening," Anthony Marcoly, president of international distribution at Paramount, told Reuters.

OPPRESSIVE LEADER

In the film, the irreverent Cohen, whose first film "Borat, Cultural Learnings of America For Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan" earned $128 million during its run in U.S. and Canadian theaters, again plays for laughs in "The Dictator.

This time Cohen portrays an oppressive leader of a fictional north African country. The movie cost $65 million to produce and Baron Cohen has been capturing headlines with high profile publicity stunts in the United States, London, Germany and Cannes, ahead of the film's release.

Marcoly added that they will be pushing the film into Southern Europe, Latin America, the Middle East and Asia this summer, focusing on its comedic value in those markets, rather than Baron Cohen's star status.

"Dark Shadows," a horror comedy starring Johnny Depp, ended its second weekend in domestic theaters in fourth place, falling from the No. 2 spot last week. The movie pulled in $12.8 million, for a total of $50.9 million to date.

In fifth place, comedy "What to Expect When You're Expecting" took in $10.5 million. Based on a popular pregnancy advice book, the movie stars an ensemble cast including Jennifer Lopez, Cameron Diaz and Chris Rock as soon-to-be parents.

Lions Gate, Alcon Entertainment and Phoenix Pictures produced the movie with a budget in the high $30 millions, reducing their risk with partnerships and foreign pre-sales.

Universal Pictures, a unit of Comcast Corp, released "Battleship." Lions Gate Entertainment Corp released "What to Expect." "Dark Shadows" was distributed by Time Warner Inc's Warner Bros studio. Paramount Pictures, a unit of Viacom Inc, released "The Dictator."