| LOS ANGELES
LOS ANGELES Will Smith's return as Agent J to the popular "Men in Black" comedy franchise zapped invading aliens and toppled the steam rolling super hero film "The Avengers" from atop movie box office charts, grabbing $203.2 million in worldwide ticket sales.
"MIB 3," starring Smith and Tommy Lee Jones in roles they last played a decade ago, opened with $70 million in the United States and Canada from Friday through the U.S. Memorial Day holiday on Monday, according to estimates compiled by Reuters.
The third installment in the franchise pulled in another $133.2 million from international markets, distributor Sony Pictures said, and was the top-ranked film in 104 countries.
"It helps when you have a big brand that everyone wants to see," said Jeff Blake, Vice Chairman of Sony Pictures Entertainment and the studio's marketing chief. "And it's even better when the film delivers."
Sony research showed that 97 percent of moviegoers were already aware of "Men in Black," which Blake attributed to renewed interest by viewers of online and other new media distribution.
Nearly 30 percent of the movie's audience were families, Blake said, a number that bodes well for its continued play "when the fan boys are no longer there."
The superhero strength of "Avengers" weakened after three weeks at No. 1 in North American (U.S. and Canadian) ticket sales. The global blockbuster finished in second place with ticket sales of $47.1 million. The worldwide haul since its record debut reached $1.6 billion, distributor Walt Disney Co said
Even with its large opening, the big-budget, effects-filled "MIB 3" fell short of some pre-weekend forecasts, which had projected a domestic debut of $80 million.
In the movie, Smith returns to his role as half of a secret-agent duo who keep order among aliens disguised as humans and living on Earth. Jones plays his partner Agent K. The new film finds J travel ling back to the 1960s to save a younger version of K, portrayed by Josh Brolin.
Sony said it spent an estimated $215 million to make the new "Men in Black" movie. Marketing costs to draw a new generation of filmgoers likely surpassed $100 million, a typical sum for a major summer movie release.
Sony is sending two other big-budget films to theaters this summer: "The Amazing Spider-Man" in July and a remake of "Total Recall" in August.
In third place for the weekend, board game-inspired "Battleship" collected $13.8 million following its disappointing domestic debut a week earlier, when the expensive film was crushed by "Avengers."
New low-budget horror movie "Chernobyl Diaries," a tale of terror near the infamous nuclear power plant, finished a disappointing sixth place, with $9.3 million in ticket sales, according to the box office division of Hollywood.com.
In the movie, a group of tourists ignore warnings and travel to an Ukrainian city that was the former home of workers at Chernobyl, site of a 1986 nuclear accident. The film drew online protests for using the real-life disaster as the film's backdrop.
"Chernobyl" finished behind the Sacha Baron Cohen comedy spoof "The Dictator" which commanded sales of $11.8 million from domestic theaters, and the Johnny Depp vampire movie "Dark Shadows," which drew $9.4 million.
Sony Corp's movie studio released "Men in Black 3." "The Avengers" was distributed by Walt Disney Co's Marvel Studios. Time Warner Inc's Warner Bros. studios distributed "Chernobyl Diaries." "Battleship" was released by Universal Studios, a unit of Comcast Corp. Viacom Inc's Paramount Studios distributed "The Dictator."
(Reporting by Lisa Richwine; Editing by Jackie Frank)