By Lisa Richwine and Chris Michaud
LOS ANGELES/NEW YORK, July 7 (Reuters) - The small yellow minions of "Despicable Me 2" upstaged Johnny Depp at the weekend movie box office.
The animated "Despicable" sequel hauled in an impressive $82.5 million in the United States and Canada from Friday through Sunday, more than double the weak $29.4 million for Walt Disney Co's big-budget Western "The Lone Ranger," which stars Depp as the masked man's Native American partner Tonto.
The two films began their box office battle on Tuesday night to grab moviegoers ahead of Thursday's U.S. Independence Day holiday. From their debuts through Sunday, "Despicable 2" earned $142.1 million, while "Lone Ranger" grossed just $48.9 million, below pre-opening forecasts for at least $60 million.
Families lifted "Despicable Me 2," which finished far above industry projections and achieved the biggest-ever five-day opening for an animated film. The movie is a sequel to the 2010 blockbuster featuring Steve Carell as the voice of the lovable villain Gru.
In the new film, Gru is a single father to three adopted daughters and becomes a spy for an anti-villain league. His devoted group of workers, the goggle-and-overall-wearing minions, get more screen time for their slapstick antics and song-and-dance numbers.
Universal Pictures, a unit of Comcast Corp, spent $76 million to produce "Despicable 2." The studio unleashed a hefty marketing campaign, including a nationwide tour by a yellow minion blimp called the "despicablimp."
Sales in international markets, where the movie started playing two weekends ago, stood at $151 million through Sunday, Universal said, for a worldwide total of $293 million.
"No one could imagine that 'Despicable Me 2' would do this kind of business," said Nikki Rocco, president for domestic distribution at Universal Pictures.
But "a broad audience loved the original movie. The minions captivated everyone and adults were very willing to do it again because it was so satisfying the first time around. It's very funny, and it wasn't a rip-off."
Another sequel, "Minions," is scheduled for Christmas 2014.
"The Lone Ranger" cost Disney $225 million to produce plus at least $100 million for marketing. The poor opening raises the possibility that the movie could saddle the media giant with a loss on the film, which is an action remake of a 1930s radio show and a 1950s TV series set in the Old West.
Armie Hammer plays John Reid, the lawman who becomes the masked Lone Ranger to fight injustice with his partner Tonto.
"Obviously this is disappointing," said Dave Hollis, vice president of distribution for Walt Disney Studios. "It obviously didn't connect with audiences, and it's frustrating for us. We felt we had everything in place for it to succeed."
"The Lone Ranger" added $24.3 million from international theaters during the weekend, bringing its global take to $73.2 million through Sunday, Disney said.
Hollis said it was still "a little to early to tell just yet" whether the film might eventually be profitable with the bulk of its international openings still to come.
"When the analysts started adding up the numbers and the critics began posting negative reviews, the movie struggled to get out of the gate," explained Paul Dergarabedian, head of Hollywood.com's box office division.
A Disney hit, animated prequel "Monsters University" from the company's Pixar studio, finished the weekend in fourth place, grabbing $19.6 million for the weekend. Its global total topped $400 million through Sunday.
The female buddy comedy "The Heat," starring Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy, took the No. 3 slot pulling in $25 million, while the Brad Pitt zombie thriller "World War Z" earned $18.2 million to finish in fifth place.
"The Heat" was released by the 20th Century Fox studio, a unit of 21st Century Fox. "World War Z" was distributed by Paramount Pictures, a unit of Viacom Inc.