(Corrects name and title of Dreamworks Animation official in 12th paragraph)
* Solid 'Croods' debut with $44.7 million globally
* 'Olympus Has Fallen' beats expectations
By Lisa Richwine and Andrea Burzynski
LOS ANGELES, March 24 (Reuters) - Animated prehistoric adventure "The Croods," about a family of cave dwellers fighting for survival, claimed the top spot on movie box office charts with $44.7 million from weekend ticket sales in the United States and Canada.
The 3-D children's comedy from "Shrek" and "Madagascar" creator Dreamworks Animation added $63.3 million from international markets, the studio said on Sunday, for a global total of $108 million.
"Croods" dethroned two-time box office champ "Oz the Great and Powerful," which slipped to third place on domestic charts. The Walt Disney Co prequel to "The Wizard of Oz" earned $22 million during its third weekend, according to studio estimates.
In between the two family films, thriller "Olympus Has Fallen," about a White House under terrorist attack, took in $30.5 million at North American (U.S. and Canadian) theaters.
The performance of "Croods" provided a solid opening for Dreamworks, which needs a hit after the disappointment from November's "Rise of the Guardians."
Box office analyst at Exhibitor Relations Co. Jeff Bock said the opening bodes well for Dreamworks, which he said is in the process of establishing new films ripe for sequels.
"It's a great start for a spring film, especially one that's animated," he said.
Bock predicted that the film will gross between $175 and $200 million over the next two months or so.
"Croods" tells the story of a Stone Age family that is uprooted after its cave is destroyed and forced to search for a new home. Nicolas Cage provides the voice of an overprotective father, while Emma Stone voices his rebellious daughter. The movie cost $135 million to make, plus tens of millions more for marketing.
Ahead of the weekend, Wall Street analysts said "Croods" needed a domestic opening around $40 million to ease investor concerns following the weak results from "Guardians," which opened with $24 million and grossed $303 million total during its global run.
The poor performance of the holiday-themed "Guardians" forced Dreamworks to write down $87 million and contributed to 350 layoffs taking place this year, the company said in February.
Dreamworks Animation Chief Marketing Officer Anne Globe said she expects the film to do "phenomenally well" over the next few weeks, pointing to its A CinemaScore rating and the fact that many U.S. children will be off from school and more likely to head to the movies.
"This time period is a big opportunity for us," Daly said, citing "How to Train Your Dragon" as a past example of a family film that benefited from a release during a similar time frame.
In the coming weeks, "Croods" will have the family audience largely to itself as "Oz" plays out. Starring James Franco as a small-time magician who becomes the leader of the magical land, "Oz" brought its global total to $356.4 million through Sunday.
"Olympus Has Fallen" beat pre-weekend forecasts for a $20 million opening, and broke this year's streak of underperforming R-rated action films. The movie stars Gerard Butler as a disgraced former Secret Service agent who works to save a kidnapped president, played by Aaron Eckhart.
Privately held FilmDistrict distributed "Olympus," which was produced for $70 million by Millennium Entertainment, according to Box Office Mojo.
Elsewhere, raunchy adult comedy "Spring Breakers," which racked up big sales a week ago in just three theaters, expanded into 1,100 theaters, nearly 3,000 fewer than "Croods." The low-budget comedy took the sixth spot with $5 million.
"Spring Breakers" stars "Oz" hero Franco and former Disney Channel starlets Selena Gomez and Vanessa Hudgens as partiers who behave badly during a trip to Florida.
"Admission," a comedy starring Tina Fey and Paul Rudd, grossed $6.4 million and took fifth place. The $13 million production tells the story of a Princeton admissions officer who meets a college-bound student who may be the son she gave up for adoption.
Halle Berry thriller "The Call" took fourth place with $8.7 million in its second week in theaters. The film stars Berry as a 911 operator who tries to save a kidnapped teenager.
"The Croods" was distributed by 20th Century Fox, a unit of News Corp. "Olympus Has Fallen" was released by privately held FilmDistrict. "Admission" was distributed by Focus Features, a unit of Comcast Corp's Universal Pictures. "Spring Breakers" was released by privately held A24. (Reporting by Lisa Richwine and Andrea Burzynski; Editing by Stacey Joyce)