Hollywood would like to skip spring and head straight to summer.
The summer-style blockbuster "Battle: Los Angles" performed like one at the box office, opening to a strong debut of $36 million, according to studio estimates Sunday. The film stars Aaron Eckhart as a veteran soldier leading a platoon of Marines in combat against invading aliens.
For Columbia Pictures and Sony, the sci-fi action film recalls its 2009 Oscar-nominated hit, "District 9." "Battle: Los Angeles" hasn't received nearly as good reviews, but it benefited from a 68 percent male audience and a very successful marketing campaign.
"It's kind of like having a summer film in the spring," said Rory Bruer, president of worldwide distribution at Sony. "From the beginning, this was a film we were excited about."
Bruer added that there's "definitely a connection" between "Battle: Los Angeles" and "District 9," which opened to $37.4 million and was also helmed by a South African filmmaker. Neill Blomkamp directed "District 9," while Jonathan Liebesman directed the similarly handheld-heavy "Battle: Los Angeles."
In its second week of release, the animated Western spoof "Rango" came in second, adding $23.1 million for a cumulative total of $68.7 million. The critically acclaimed Paramount Pictures film appeared on its way to surpassing $100 million.
The weekend's other new releases didn't fare as well.
"Red Riding Hood," the updated fairy tale starring Amanda Seyfried and helmed by "Twilight" director Catherine Hardwicke, debuted to $14.1 million for Warner Bros.
Worse was Disney's animated 3-D family film "Mars Needs Moms!" It opened to a disappointing $6.8 million, well below expectations. With a voice cast including Seth Green and Joan Cusack, it also opened on more than 200 IMAX screens.
Based on the book of the same title by Berkeley Breathed, "Mars Needs Moms!" had an estimated production budget of $150 million. Such a poor start means it's likely to be a significant loss for Disney, though that pain is somewhat alleviated by its surprise hit, "Gnomeo & Juliet." It has taken in $89 million in five weeks.
Overall, moviegoing business was still down from the corresponding weekend last year. Since November 2010, such down weekends have been the norm except for one up weekend. The box office for 2011 was 21.5 percent off last year's pace.
Hollywood.com analyst Paul Dergarabedian said the weekend business was "good news for aliens, bad news for the overall box office."
"It's a cyclical business, but this is a long downturn," said Dergarabedian. "The industry is holding its collective breath for summer to start."
With myriad blockbusters planned for both the summer and holiday seasons, Hollywood has reason to expect better business as the year continues.