'Alice in Wonderland' leads worldwide box office

LOS ANGELES, March 7 (Reuters) - Walt Disney Co.'s DIS.N 3D update of "Alice in Wonderland" smashed multiple records during its first weekend at the North American box office, selling $116.3 million in tickets, the company said on Sunday.

It also earned $94 million in more than 40 foreign countries, ending the 11-week reign of “Avatar” overseas. The early worldwide total stands at $210.3 million, with the film yet to open in 40 percent of the international marketplace.

Disney said the better-than-expected opening in the United States and Canada set new records for a film released in both March and the first quarter.

It is also the best performance by a non-sequel, and established new benchmarks for a 3D and Imax Corp IMAX.O big-screen title. Moreover, it is director Tim Burton's best debut, surpassing the $68.5 million start for his 2001 remake of "Planet of the Apes."

Pundits had conservatively forecast an opening weekend above $75 million for his bold reinvention of the Lewis Carroll classic. The last movie to reach that level was “Avatar,” which opened at $77 million in December on its way to world domination.

Johnny Depp stars as the Mad Hatter, while Australian actress Mia Wasikowska plays Alice. Burton’s girlfriend Helena, Bonham Carter, and Anne Hathaway round out the headliners as the Red Queen and White Queen, respectively.

Reviews were mixed, with critics more enthused by the movie’s visual splendor than its narrative essence. (Reporting by Dean Goodman; editing by Paul Simao)