* Each film takes in estimated $36.2 mln
* "Smurfs" total tops expectations
* "Cowboys & Aliens" below pre-release estimates
By Lisa Richwine
LOS ANGELES, July 31 The tiny blue "Smurfs" battled big-name, big-budget "Cowboys & Aliens" to a surprising tie at the domestic weekend box office with each film ringing up an estimated $36.2 million in ticket sales, according to studio estimates on Sunday.
"The Smurfs" live-action and animated 3D film drew families to the latest adventure of the classic Belgian cartoon characters and grossed higher-than-expected sales. "Cowboys & Aliens" fell short of pre-release estimates from box-office watchers.
The totals are estimates of ticket sales from United States and Canadian theaters for Friday, Saturday and Sunday. The leader will not be known until actual sales are tallied on Monday.
Going into the weekend, "Cowboys & Aliens" was seen easily topping box-office charts with starpower from James Bond actor Daniel Craig and "Indiana Jones" star Harrison Ford, plus director Jon Favreau from the hit "Iron Man" series and Steven Spielberg among the producers. The film is set in the Wild West in 1873, when a spaceship arrives in Arizona and runs into a posse of cowboys.
The movie offered "a fresh and unique concept," said Nikki Rocco, president of distribution for Universal Pictures, a division of Comcast Corp (CMCSA.O) that released the film. "It was a bet worth taking with these filmmakers."
A lower-than-expected total for "Cowboys & Aliens" collided with a bigger draw from "The Smurfs," a movie that revived characters that debuted more than 50 years ago.
"In the summer, family films are a hot commodity," Paul Dergarabedian, box office analyst with Hollywood.com, said of the "Smurfs" success.
Rory Bruer, president of worldwide distribution for Columbia Pictures, said the "Smurfs" film "performed beyond our expectations." Columbia Pictures is the unit of Sony Corp (6758.T) (SNE.N) that released the movie.
Third place for the weekend went to superhero flick "Captain America: The First Avenger" with $24.9 million in domestic ticket sales during its second weekend in theaters.
"Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows -- Part 2," hitting its third weekend, finished fourth with $21.9 million. The final installment of the popular boy wizard series topped $1 billion in worldwide sales to date, the ninth film in history to hit that mark, distributor Warner Bros. said.
"Crazy, Stupid, Love," a new romantic comedy starring Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling and Julianne Moore, took the No. 5 spot in the U.S. and Canada with a solid $19.3 million.
"Captain America" was released by Paramount Pictures, a unit of Viacom VIAb.N. Time Warner Inc (TWX.N) unit Warner Bros released "Crazy, Stupid, Love" and "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows -- Part 2." (Editing by Bob Tourtellotte)