* "Rango" maintains hold on No. 2 with $15.3 million
* "Battle: Los Angeles" drops 60 pct, lands at No. 3
* Total weekend ticket sales off 10 pct from year ago. (Adds byline, bullets, new movies throughout)
By Bob Tourtellotte
LOS ANGELES, March 20 Thriller "Limitless" topped North American box offices with $19 million in ticket sale over a lackluster weekend that continued Hollywood's losing streak versus last year.
The movie, in which Bradley Cooper portrays a man who is able to exponentially increase his brainpower by taking a drug, beat animated family film "Rango," which maintained the No. 2 spot in its third weekend in theaters with $15.3 million, according to studio estimates on Sunday.
Rounding out the top three was last week's No. 1, alien invasion flick "Battle: Los Angeles," which saw its box office slide nearly 60 percent from last weekend to $14.6 million. (For box office chart click on [ID:nN20215390])
The weekend's two other new films were drama "The Lincoln Lawyer," which claimed the No. 4 spot with $13.4 million, and road trip comedy "Paul," rounding out the top 5 at just under $13.2 million.
Overall ticket sales in the United States and Canada were down roughly 10 percent from the same weekend one year ago, and it was the fourth straight weekend of a decline at box offices versus 2010, according to tracker Hollywood.com Box Office.
Year-to-date ticket sales are off 20 percent and attendance in theaters is down 21 percent against last year when "Avatar" and "Alice in Wonderland" captured moviegoers' imaginations.
Box offices have been in the doldrums since November 2010, but Hollywood hopes that will change when its summer movie season starts in early May with a series of big-budget flicks.
"The first quarter of 2011 has been one we'd like to forget with comparisons to last year making things tough, week after week," said Hollywood.com president Paul Dergarabedian. "Luckily help is on the way with a potentially huge and record breaking summer season."
Where this past weekend was concerned, Relativity Media was happy with the $19 million mustered by "Limitless," given that pre-weekend forecasting had all three of the weekend's new releases opening in the mid-teen's.
"To be in the high-teens and closer to $20 (million) was a pleasant surprise," said Kyle Davies, president of theatrical distribution for closely-held Relativity. He said the movie played broadly across all age groups.
Similarly, Lions Gate distribution head David Spitz had expected an opening in the $10 million to $12 million range for adult-oriented legal drama "The Lincoln Lawyer," starring Matthew McConaughey. Spitz said the movie enjoyed good scores from audience polling, and given its appeal to older audiences, should enjoy a "nice long run in theaters."
Family-oriented animated comedy "Rango," in which Johnny Depp voices the role of a chameleon cowboy, continued to surprise box office watchers with its hold on second place with only a 32 percent drop in ticket sales from last weekend. It now has accumulated $92.6 million in three weeks.
At the opposite end of the spectrum is Disney's (DIS.N) animated "Mars Needs Moms!" which at a reported cost of $150 million has been an expensive flop. In its second weekend, it dropped to No. 8 on box office charts from a debut at No. 5, and now has only $15.4 million in total ticket sales.
"Limitless" was released by closely held Relativity Media, "Rango" by Paramount Pictures, a unit of Viacom Inc VIAb.N, and "Battle: Los Angeles" by Columbia Pictures, a part of the media division of giant Sony Corp 6578.T. "The Lincoln Lawyer" was distributed by Lions Gate (LGF.N), and "Paul" by Universal Pictures, which is controlled by Comcast Corp. (CMCSA.O) (Reporting by Bob Tourtellotte; Editing by Eric Walsh and Vicki Allen)