| LOS ANGELES
LOS ANGELES "Shrek the Third" proved to be a fairy tale come true for DreamWorks Animation SKG, defying expectations to gross $122 million its first three days at the North American box office and surpass "Shrek 2" for the biggest opening weekend by an animated film.
The latest installment of the story-book satire featuring Mike Myers as the voice of the lovable green ogre, and Eddie Murphy as his wise-cracking donkey pal, also posted the third-highest movie opening overall, after "Spider-Man 3" and last year's "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest."
The lofty "Shrek" tally, achieved despite mixed reviews, follows a record-shattering debut by "Spider-Man 3" two weeks ago and bodes well for a treasure trove of ticket sales to come when the Walt Disney Co.'s newest "Pirates of the Caribbean" sets sale next Friday.
With "Shrek" topping the U.S.-Canadian box office rankings on Sunday, Sony Corp.'s "Spider-Man 3" slipped to No. 2 in its third weekend with estimated Friday-through-Sunday receipts of $28.5 million, bringing its domestic cumulative total to nearly $282 million.
"'Shrek' exceeded everyone's expectations, which has been happening a lot with all of these movies," said Paul Dergarabedian, president of box office tracking firm Media By Numbers.
He was referring to "Spider-Man 3," which just two weeks ago bagged the biggest-ever opening weekend at the domestic box office with ticket sales of $151.1 million.
"I think we could see more records being broken," he said.
When asked if she expects "Shrek" to retain its perch at the top of next weekend's box office chart, DreamWorks Chief Operating Officer Ann Daly said: "No. For certain. I'm sure 'Pirates' as a releasing movie will be the top movie of the weekend."
"Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End" opens during the long Memorial Day holiday weekend, and industry analysts and executives expect the high-seas adventure starring Johnny Depp as Captain Jack Sparrow to rake in box office gold.
Last year's "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest" has claim on the second-biggest domestic weekend opening ever after capturing sales of $135.6 million.
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Analysts had expected "Shrek the Third," to gross between $80 million and $110 million, and some industry watchers predicted it would fall short of the $108 million opening three years ago by "Shrek 2," which held the previous benchmark for biggest first weekend by an animated film.
"We can't believe it. I'm thrilled," Daly said of the results, which also marked the best opening of all time for a film from distributor Paramount Pictures.
The "Shrek" series, at $1.4 billion in global ticket sales, is the top animated franchise of all time, and people of all ages flocked to "Shrek the Third" despite mixed reviews.
Media By Numbers' Dergarabedian said the industry's cautious bias is no longer justified.
"In the wake of the 2005 box office slump, we're a little gun-shy about making these huge predictions about openings, but we really shouldn't be," he said.
Zombie thriller "28 Weeks Later," from News Corp.'s Fox Atomic, fell one spot to No. 3 with sales of $5.2 million, rounding out the top three.