By Lisa Richwine and Chris Michaud
May 26 (Reuters) - The speed demons of “Fast & Furious 6” raced ahead of the hard-partying “Hangover” gang in a battle between two male-oriented movie franchises, setting up the car chase sequel for a big holiday weekend win at U.S. and Canadian box offices.
“Fast & Furious 6” rang up an estimated $98.5 million in domestic ticket sales from Friday through Sunday and was speeding toward $122.5 million by the end of Monday’s U.S. Memorial Day holiday, distributor Universal Pictures projected.
Comedy sequel “The Hangover Part III” brought in $42.4 million from Friday through Sunday, according to studio estimates, and was likely to finish with $64 million through Monday, after a Thursday opening.
Last weekend’s box office leader, sci-fi sequel “Star Trek Into Darkness,” fell to third place with $38 million through Sunday and was headed toward $48 million through Monday.
The movies charged up the North American box office, putting ticket sales on pace for a Memorial Day weekend record. Receipts for all films could reach $323 million through Monday, according to Hollywood.com, shattering the 2011 record of $276.3 million.
“A perfect storm of hits led to this incredible weekend with going out to the movies proving itself to be the first choice for outside-of-the-home entertainment,” said Paul Dergarabedian, president of Hollywood.com’s box office division.
The sixth installment of “Fast & Furious” blew past pre-weekend forecasts for $80 million in domestic sales over four days by nearly 50 percent. The five previous films grossed $1.6 billion combined.
Set in London, the new film stars Vin Diesel as Dominic Toretto, a now-retired professional criminal who reunites his crew with U.S. Diplomatic Security Service agent Luke Hobbs, played by Dwayne Johnson. The group works to take down a criminal outfit of mercenary drivers scattered across 12 countries.
The new movie built a massive online fan base with more than 34 million “likes” on Facebook. It cost $160 million to produce.
“To do this again, and have critics rave which is so unusual for this type of film ... that’s unbelievable,” said Nikki Rocco, president for domestic distribution at Universal Studios, a unit of Comcast Corp.
“And it’s really extraordinary that 49 percent of the audience is female. Older females really love the film,” she noted, adding that its appeal is “very broad and very diverse.”
“Fast & Furious 6” added $177 million in international markets, bringing global sales through Sunday to $275.5 million, Universal said.
With the franchise showing no signs of slowing, Universal has already announced the “Fast & Furious 7” release for July 2014.
“The Hangover Part III,” meanwhile, brings the hard-partying saga to a close. The third movie takes friends played by Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms and Zach Galifianakis back to Las Vegas for a new round of escapades as they hunt for the elusive and eccentric Mr. Chow, played by Ken Jeong.
The third installment looked likely to miss forecasts for sales of at least $70 million including Thursday sales of $11.8 million. Time Warner Inc’s Warner Bros. and Legendary Entertainment produced “Hangover Part III” for $103 million, according to the Box Office Mojo website.
Dan Fellman, president of theatrical distribution for Warner Bros, said that while the film “underperformed just a little bit,” the big weekend numbers all around were a good sign, and “Hangover III” was the second-largest opening ever for an R-rated film with $64 million projected through Monday.
“The market expanded enormously this weekend,” Fellman noted, “so we expect we’ll be getting some of the ‘Fast & Furious’ fans in the next week.”
The weekend’s other new nationwide release, animated family film “Epic,” landed in fourth place with $34.2 million through Sunday and an estimated $44 million through Monday.
“Epic,” released by News Corp’s 20th Century Fox studio, tells the story of a teenage girl who discovers a battle between good and evil taking place deep in the forest. Colin Farrell, Josh Hutcherson and Beyonce provide voices for the characters. The 3D movie, which cost $93 million to produce, is the first new family film to reach theaters since “The Croods” debuted on March 22.
Third-place film “Star Trek Into Darkness” dropped 46 percent from its debut a week earlier. Global sales through Sunday neared $260 million, according to distributor Paramount Pictures, a unit of Viacom Inc.
In fifth place, blockbuster superhero movie “Iron Man 3” from Walt Disney Co’s Marvel Studios earned $19.4 million through Sunday. Its cumulative global sales topped $1.1 billion, Disney said, the fifth-highest total of all time.