'G.I. Joe' easily wins box office battle

Cast member Channing Tatum poses at the premiere of the movie "G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra" at the Grauman's Chinese theatre in Hollywood, California August 6, 2009. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni/Files

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - An action movie based on the “G.I. Joe” line of toy soldiers stormed the weekend box office in North America despite some bad buzz, while a Meryl Streep drama inspired by TV chef Julia Child cooked up a tasty debut at No. 2.

According to studio estimates issued on Sunday, “G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra” sold about $56.2 million worth of tickets during its first three days since opening on Friday, the fourth-biggest August debut of all time.

The movie, based on the venerable Hasbro Inc action figures, had been besieged ever since an underwhelming trailer premiered in February during the Super Bowl football championship, the most-watched television event of the year in the United States.

The film’s distributor, Paramount Pictures, opted not to screen the movie in advance for critics, a gambit often reserved for box office clunkers.

In the end, reviews were predictably bad, but not as bad as those for such recent releases as “G-Force” and “The Ugly Truth.” Paramount, a unit of Viacom Inc, also launched the film in most foreign countries, but sales data were not immediately available.

The record for an August opening in the United States and Canada was set in 2007 by “The Bourne Ultimatum” with $69.3 million, while “Rush Hour 2” kicked off with $67.4 million in 2001, and “Signs” with $60 million in 2002. All ended up with more than $220 million.

Columbia Pictures pulled in older women with “Julie & Julia,” which opened to $20.1 million. Streep stars as Child, while Amy Adams stars in a parallel story as a young woman who seeks to replicate the noted chef’s culinary exploits. The Sony Corp-owned studio said it expected the film to simmer in theaters for some time.

Last weekend’s champion, “Funny People,” slid to No. 5 with $7.9 million, taking the 10-day total for writer/director Judd Apatow’s comedic disappointment to $40.4 million. The picture was released by Universal Pictures, a unit of General Electric Co.