Par actioneer muscles past 'Potter' in U.S.

After successfully launching “Thor,” Paramount ended its summer sked with a second Marvel pic, “Captain America: The First Avenger,” which bowed to an estimated $65.8 million domestically. But overseas bragging rights went to “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2″ with its outstanding $121.3 million second-weekend gross.

Because of “Potter’s” international dominance, Par decided to wait a week before launching “Captain America” outside the U.S., except in Italy, where the pic grossed $2.8 million — 16% better than “Iron Man” locally.

Domestically, “Captain America,” with 40% from 3D, stands as the third-best Marvel series launch

behind “Spider-Man” and “Iron Man.” But the pic could slip in standing depending on actual numbers released today. That wouldn’t be too surprising: “Thor” dropped to $65.7 million from its estimated $66 million bow.

Either way, “Captain America” is a solid summer bookend for Par, which released three other films (“Kung Fu Panda 2,” “Super 8″ and “Transformers: Dark of the Moon”) since “Thor” bowed on May 6.

“This is certainly a great way to finish the summer,” said Par vice chairman Rob Moore.

Going into the weekend, most B.O. observers expected a tighter Stateside race between “Captain America” and “Harry Potter,” which collected $48.1 million in its second frame for a domestic cume of $274.2 million.

But “Potter” suffered a steeper-than-usual drop at 72% — considerably more than the previous three-day opening record holder, “The Dark Knight,” which fell 53% in its sophomore outing. (Keep in mind, however, that “Potter” saw a sizable boost last weekend from $43.5 million in midnight grosses vs. $18.5 million for “The Dark Knight.”)

“Part 2″ held better overseas (down just 61%) and has totaled $560.4 million for an astonishing $834.6 million global cume.

Domestically, the key for “Potter” will be stabilization, meaning how well the pic holds in subsequent frames after the mad rush of fans opening weekend.

“Part 2″ is still on track to becoming the franchise’s best domestic performer — not to mention internationally and worldwide as well. The film should eclipse the first “Deathly Hallows” in the U.S. ($295 million) by next weekend; “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” is the franchise’s top global performer at $974.8 million.

Also bowing this weekend in the U.S., Sony/Screen Gems’ “Friends With Benefits,” starring Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis, earned an estimated $18.5 million from 2,926 locations. That’s a solid start for the pic reportedly budgeted at $30 million.

“There’s great chemistry between Mila and Justin,” said Sony distribution topper Rory Bruer. “I truly feel this is going to be one of those films that sticks around for a while.”

“Friends” could see success similar to that of fellow R-rated comedies “Horrible Bosses” and “Bad Teacher,” though those films bowed slightly higher with mixed word of mouth. Both “Friends” and “Horrible Bosses,” the latter with a cume of $82.4 million in three weeks, scored B+ CinemaScore ratings; “Bad Teacher (with $94.4 million in five weeks) received a C+.

Soft 3D ‘Avenger’

“Captain America” turned in yet another meh perf for the flagging 3D format. But there are a few distinctions worth making.

First, the pic’s reported 40% 3D opening share comes a week after “Harry Potter” — a much bigger movie event — earned 43% in 3D, including 9% from Imax.

That said, however, “Green Lantern” also didn’t have Imax and earned 45% of its opening from 3D. Both “Green Lantern” and “Captain America” are potential comicbook franchise starters, with “Captain America” doing better overall during opening weekend.

“Most of the biggest summer movies are in 3D,” Par’s Moore said. “So you have a lot more competition then you’ve ever had before.”

Par had more success with 3D when it launched “Dark of the Moon” at 60% from the format. The studio spent considerable effort marketing “Transformers” as a 3D event, which wasn’t necessarily the case for “Captain America.”

Moore said 3D was a lesser priority with “Captain America” because more marketing coin was needed in creating awareness for the property. “With ‘Captain America,’ we were launching a new character,” Moore said, whereas “Dark of the Moon” was a third installment. Plus, “Captain America” had more of a throwback feel with fewer spectacles ideal for 3D than “Transformers.”

3D repped 68% of all domestic locations for “Captain America,” with 2,511 runs out of 3,715. “Potter” total locations were 69% 3D; “Transformers,” 68%.

“Captain America,” which received a solid A- CinemaScore rating, played best with auds over 25 at 58%, but according to Par, the majority of that demo was under 50. Pic also skewed mostly toward men, with 64%, while not surprisingly, women made up most of the opening aud for “Friends” at 62%. That pic also played more with those over 25, most likely because of the pic’s R rating.

Alternative muscle

Among the weekend’s top holdovers, Par’s “Dark of the Moon” nabbed the No. 4 spot behind “Friends” with an estimated $12 million. Pic has a domestic cume of $274.2 million, with a colossal $556.6 million overseas.

“Dark of the Moon” debuted this weekend in China, where it posted the all-time biggest debut for an American film with $40 million in three days. That beats “Avatar” by a whopping 72%, but the pic could face tough competish when Warner’s “Deathly Hallows: Part 2″ bows in China on Aug. 4.

Domestically, Disney’s “Winnie the Pooh,” which bowed alongside “Part 2,” dropped just 35% in its second frame with an estimated $5.1 million through Sunday. Toon has cumed $17.6 million, added to more than $9 million internationally.

At the Stateside specialty B.O., there were a few notable entries, including Fox Searchlight’s “Another Earth” and the Weinstein Co.’s “Sarah’s Key,” which had the weekend’s highest per-screen average at $23,409.

“Sarah’s Key,” starring Kristin Scott Thomas, debuted at five locations in New York and L.A. for an estimated $117,045, while “Another Earth” tallied $78,413 from four engagements, averaging $19,600 per screen. Searchlight’s weekend take for “Another Earth” is significant since the pic stars an unknown actress (Brit Marling) and comes from a first-time narrative feature helmer, Mike Cahill.

“Another Earth” expands to six new markets next week; “Sarah’s Key” will go out in 17 more markets.

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