(recasts lead, adds byline, new info throughout)
By Dean Goodman
LOS ANGELES, July 13 The "Hellboy" sequel
sizzled at the weekend box office in North America, while Eddie
Murphy bombed with his latest comedy, "Meet Dave," according to
studio estimates issued on Sunday.
"Hellboy II: The Golden Army," starring Ron Perlman as a
cigar-chomping demon who fights evil, opened at No. 1 after
selling about $35.9 million worth of tickets.
The Universal Pictures release, which cost about $85
million to make, exceeded industry expectations, as well as the
$23.2 million start for its 2004 predecessor, "Hellboy."
Both films were directed by Mexican filmmaker Guillermo del
Toro, who in the interim enjoyed huge success with his 2006
fantasy thriller "Pan's Labyrinth."
The sequel becomes the third comic-book property to lead
the field this summer, following "Iron Man" and "The Incredible
Hulk." But its reign will be brief, as the highly anticipated
Batman sequel "The Dark Knight" opens on Friday.
Universal distribution president Nikki Rocco said the
studio's marketing efforts emphasized the fantasy and emotional
elements to differentiate the film from the other comic-book
The first "Hellboy" film went on to make about $60 million
domestically -- evidently not enough to dissuade its
distributor, Columbia, from letting the franchise move to
Universal, a unit of General Electric Co (GE.N), hopes
there will be a third film, but Del Toro's availability is
unclear since he will be tied up with the "Hobbit" movie for
the next few years.
"HANCOCK" STILL HOT
Last weekend's champ, Columbia Pictures' Will Smith
superhero comedy "Hancock," slipped to No. 2 with $33 million,
taking its 12-day total to $165 million. The film's overseas
total raced to $180 million, and the Sony Corp (6758.T) (SNE.N)
studio said it is on track to exceed $500 million worldwide.
Also new was the Warner Bros. family adventure "Journey to
the Center of the Earth," starring Brendan Fraser, which opened
at No. 3 with $20.6 million, also exceeding expectations.
Venues equipped with 3-D capabilities accounted for 30
percent of the locations, but 57 percent of the gross, said the
Time Warner Inc (TWX.N)-owned studio. The film cost about $54
million to make.
"Meet Dave" opened at No. 7 with just $5.3 million. It
ranks as Murphy's biggest flop since "The Adventures of Pluto
Nash," which opened to $2.2 million in 2002.
Murphy plays two roles: the tiny commander of an alien
space ship as well as the spacecraft itself. One role he
avoided was publicity for the movie: He did not show up for the
world premiere last week.
The film, which cost about $60 million to make, was
released by News Corp's NWSa.N 20th Century Fox, which shared
the cost with two other production entities. The comedy also
earned $3.6 million from 18 foreign markets, with Russia
accounting for $1.5 million.
In addition to Warner Bros.' "The Dark Knight," next
weekend will also see the North American release of the
ABBA-inspired musical "Mamma Mia!" The Universal Pictures
release opened at No. 1 in Britain this weekend with $24
million. Not surprisingly, it was also No. 1 in Sweden, ABBA's
home territory, as well as Australia, where the '70s foursome
was a cultural phenomenon.
(Reporting by Dean Goodman, editing by Cynthia Osterman)