Disney-Pixar pic tops box office with $44.2 million

Warner Bros.’ comedy “The Hangover” grossed a boffo $43.3 million in its domestic B.O. debut, nearly edging Disney-Pixar holdover “Up,” which remained No. 1 at an impressive $44.2 million.

Lost in the shuffle was Universal’s big-budget laffer “Land of the Lost,” the summer’s first major disappointment. The Will Ferrell comedy opened to an estimated $19.5 million from 3,521 theaters, well below the $30 million the studio had hoped for. Pic placed No. 3.

Fox Searchlight’s Nia Vardalos romantic comedy “My Life in Ruins,” debuting in only 1,164 runs and distributed by big Fox, turned in a meek performance as expected. Female-skewing comedy grossed $3.2 million to place only No. 9 for the sesh.

Focus Features had much better luck with Sam Mendes’ dramedy “Away We Go.” Limited release debuted to $134,815 from four theaters in New York and L.A. for an impressive per-location average of $35,815.

Sony came in No. 1 at the international box office as “Terminator Salvation” made its first major push overseas, grossing $65 million from 8,325 runs in 70 territories. Pic made an additional $2.5 million in several territories where Sony isn’t handling, bringing the foreign cume to $101.6 million.

Also over the weekend, Sony’s “Angels and Demons” became the first 2009 title to jump the $400 million mark, fueled by its overseas performance. Through Sunday, pic’s worldwide total rose to $409.1 million: foreign grosses of $293 million plus a domestic total of $116.1 million.

Domestically, the box office was down roughly 8% from the same frame last year, when “Kung Fu Panda” opened.

The strength of “Hangover’s” domestic debut — one of the top openings ever for an R-rated comedy — was one of the biggest surprises of the year since tracking showed the film opening in the mid- to high-20s.

That the movie zoomed well past those predictions is a testament to the filmmakers and a savvy marketing campaign, considering there are no big-name stars.

Pic, directed by Todd Phillips (“Old School”), centers on a bachelor party gone terribly awry. Co-produced and co-financed by Legendary Pictures, it went out in 3,269 runs.

The only R-rated comedies that have opened bigger — “Sex and the City” ($57 million) and “American Pie 2″ ($45.1 million) — benefited from brand-name recognition.

Laffers tend to have more modest openings but can enjoy sustained playability. If “Hangover” has strong legs, its domestic cume could come in well north of $150 million. Next studio comedy this summer is Sony’s “Year One,” which stars Jack Black and Michael Cera and opens June 19.

“The movie just exploded. What’s really nice is that it puts Warners firmly in the comedy business,” Warner prexy of domestic distribution Dan Fellman said. “Todd Phillips really has a handle on young audiences, plus Sue Kroll came up with a great marketing strategy. Nobody saw this coming.”

Film’s aud was evenly divided in terms of age and gender.

“Up’s” dazzling performance in its second run brought the 3-D toon’s domestic cume to $137.3 million in its first 10 days. Playing over the weekend in 3,818 runs, pic dropped a mere 35%.

Pic’s perf also reinforces the added lift 3-D runs can give a film. Overseas, where “Up” is rolling out slowly, the toon grossed $7.8 million for the weekend, including a $3.8 million launch in Mexico.

But it was Fox’s “Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian” that dominated the family market internationally. Film placed No. 2 after “Terminator Salvation,” grossing $26.7 million at 8,000 in 66 markets for a cume of $148.3 million. Domestically, it was No. 4 for the sesh, grossing $14.7 million from 3,807 for a cume of $127.3 million. Worldwide tally is $275.6 million.

While “Land of the Lost” was positioned as a family film, its raunchy humor and PG-13 rating may have scared off parents, according to box office observers. Film was adapted from the TV series about a family trapped in a parallel universe complete with dinosaurs.

Universal didn’t try to sugarcoat the results.

“Obviously, the film didn’t perform where we’d hoped it would for the weekend,” U prexy of domestic distribution Nikki Rocco said.

Reflecting poor word of mouth and bad reviews, “Land of the Lost” didn’t see a bump from Friday to Saturday, unlike most family films (“Up” jumped from $13.1 million on Friday to roughly $18 million on Saturday).

Studio insiders said U execs were rocked by the results for the summer tentpole, particularly since it was one of the studio’s major summer films. Pic, co-financed by Relativity Media, cost at least $100 million to produce. Of the movie’s aud, 50% were over age 25; 40% of that group were parents of kids 13 years and younger.

Last summer, Warners had similar trouble with its family entry “Speed Racer.” That film opened to a disappointing $18.6 million on its way to topping out at $44 million domestically. U will look to make up for “Land of the Lost” with Michael Mann’s Johnny Depp-Christian Bale starrer “Public Enemies” (July 1), Sacha Baron Cohen’s “Bruno” (July 10) and Adam Sandler comedy “Funny People” (July 31).

“Land of the Lost” won’t roll out overseas until later this summer or early fall.

As it begins its foreign push, “Terminator Salvation” distribs are hoping international results bolster the lukewarm U.S. performance. Pic’s foreign cume through Sunday was $101.6 million; domestically, it was $105.5 million (Warners is releasing in the U.S.).

“T4’s” weekend take of $67.5 million in 66 territories was led by an $11.6 million debut in the U.K., $8 million in Russia, $6.3 million in France and $6 million in Germany. Sony international execs said “Salvation” is running 21% ahead of “Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines.”

At the domestic specialty box office, Focus Features shone with “Away We Go,” which served as effective counterprogramming to popcorn pics. Mendes’ film, starring Maya Rudolph and John Krasinski, sold out most shows on Friday and Saturday, including matinees.

“Clearly, the film is playing effectively to a mixed-age demo, which is great for the ultimate box office potential,” Focus prexy of distribution Jack Foley said.

“Away We go” expands into six additional markets on Friday and will up its screen count in L.A. and Gotham.

Elsewhere at the specialty box office, French biopic “Seraphine” opened to a per-location average of $6,667 as it grossed $40,000 from six runs for Music Box Films. Oscilloscope Pictures docu “Unmistaken Child” grossed $6,039 as it opened in one run on Gotham for a five-day cume of $9,508.

Arthouse Films docu “Herb and Dorothy,” about art collectors Herb and Dorothy Vogel, opened to $10,042 runs from two runs in Gotham for a per-location average of $5,024.

Among indie holdovers, Regent Releasing’s Oscar foreign pic winner “Departures” grossed $88,102 from 16 runs in its second week for a per-location average of $5,506 and cume of $192,003.

Sony Pictures Classics’ “Easy Virtue” grossed $219,327 from 46 screens in its third sesh for a per-location average of $4,768 and a cume of $627,753.

(Dave McNary contributed to this report.)

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