"Despicable Me" wasn't such a bad guy after all, it seems, opening at the top of the box office with an estimated $60.1 million.
The first 3-D animated movie from Universal Pictures stars Steve Carell as the voice of Gru, a bumbling villain with plans to steal the moon — until three adorable orphan girls enter his life. Jason Segel, Russell Brand and Julie Andrews are among the star-studded voice cast.
Nikki Rocco, head of distribution for Universal, said Sunday that "Despicable Me" far exceeded the studio's expectations for opening weekend.
"Thirty (million) would have been a win for the studio — because it's a new creative idea, we really didn't know what we had, so we backed in saying $30 (million)," said Rocco. "I would never have said $50 million-plus."
Rocco believes a number of factors worked in the movie's favor, including jokes for the kids and more grown-up humor and a warmhearted story for adults. But the tiny, yellow Minions — quirky, pill-shaped creatures who spout gibberish and help Gru carry out his dastardly plans — were appealing to both, and were a huge part of the film's marketing campaign.
The week's other new wide release, "Predators," grossed $25.3 million to open at No. 3. A sequel of sorts to the 1987 sci-fi cult classic "Predator," the 20th Century Fox film stars Adrien Brody and Laurence Fishburne as mercenaries being stalked by alien hunters in the jungle.
Robert Rodriguez ("Planet Terror," the "Spy Kids" movies) wrote an early version of the script in the 1990s, produced the film at his Texas compound and his name appears high on the credits — an association that proved fruitful, said Bert Livingston, a 20th Century Fox distribution executive
"People wanted to see the film because Robert Rodriguez was attached to it, and he's the best at what he does, and we got our audience," Livingston said. "It was 70-percent male and they liked the film."
Meanwhile, last week's juggernaut, "The Twilight Saga: Eclipse," fell to second place with $33.35 million. The third film in the wildly popular vampire franchise has now made $237 million in its first 12 days. It's expected to surpass part two, "The Twilight Saga: New Moon," which grossed $296.6 million when it came out last year.
"'Twilight' dropped less than 50 percent — that's impressive to me," said Paul Dergarabedian, box-office analyst for Hollywood.com. "That's a really strong hold for a movie that, in its first day, made $68 million."
It's been a strong series of weeks at the box office, especially after a rough start to the summer with movies such as "Shrek Forever After" and "Sex and the City 2" not opening to expectations. Next weekend brings "Inception," Christopher Nolan's hugely anticipated first film since the blockbuster "The Dark Knight," which opened on the same weekend two years ago.
"You can't underestimate the importance of momentum in the marketplace," Dergarabedian said. "'The Karate Kid,' 'Toy Story 3,' 'Eclipse' and now 'Despicable Me' — we're on a roll and it feels more like the beginning of the summer than the middle of the summer."
Estimated ticket sales for Friday through Sunday at U.S. and Canadian theaters, according to Hollywood.com. Final figures will be released Monday.
1. "Despicable Me," $60.1 million.
2. "The Twilight Saga: Eclipse," $33.35 million.
3. "Predators," $25.3 million.
4. "Toy Story 3," $22 million.
5. "The Last Airbender," $17.15 million.
6. "Grown Ups," $16.4 million.
7. "Knight and Day," $7.85 million.
8. "The Karate Kid," $5.7 million.
9. "The A-Team," $1.8 million.
10. "Cyrus," $1.4 million.