Toon so far has cumed $169 mil globally

Not only did “Rio” score the year’s best-yet Stateside bow at $40 million, the 20th Century Fox 3D-animated pic also helped overall weekend totals reach the third-highest yield for a weekend frame in 2011, kick-starting the summer-season rally that B.O. observers have foretold.

If overall estimates hold, this past weekend, which tallied a total estimated $134 million, will lag for the year only consecutive frames in February, when “Just Go With It” and “Unknown” finished on top.

But thanks to “Rio’s” standout perf with general auds, as well as a solid — but less-than-expected — turnout for fellow opener “Scream 4″ ($19.3 million), weekend totals came in 12% ahead of 2010 — the first time in 2011 that a comparable frame has outperformed last year.

B.O. pundits had predicted this past weekend to beat the same frame last year, especially since that sesh’s top players, “Kick-Ass” and “How to Train Your Dragon,” both tallied just shy of $20 million. And with spring break and Easter looming this week, experts remain optimistic that the market’s existing crop, as well as other pre-summer launches, most likely will keep the box office humming.

“There’s nothing like a big number to get the ball rolling for everybody,” said Fox senior VP general sales manager Bert Livingston. “It gets people back in the habit of going to the movies.”

As of last week, year-to-date U.S. box office totals trailed 2010 by 20%.

“Rio” was boosted domestically by a lofty 65% upswing Saturday — not to mention 58% of its opening gross from 2,591 3D runs — helping it beat 2011′s previous Stateside benchmark holder, Paramount’s 2D “Rango,” which opened to $38.1 million.

Fox’s toon also came in first on a global scale, raking in this weekend $94 million worldwide for a staggering global cume of $169 million after just 12 days in release internationally.

The Weinstein Co.’s “Scream 4,” via TWC label Dimension, performed below expectations with $19.3 million from 3,305 engagements. Unlike “Rio,” which pulled in nearly every demographic, R-rated “Scream” performed best with auds over 25 but struggled with the 17-25 crowd. Pic estimated $18 million from 30 international markets.

Roadside Attractions’ historical drama “The Conspirator,” from helmer Robert Redford, bowed in line with industry expectations, estimating $3.9 million from 707 locations, enough to put it in the top 10. Pic saw a solid Friday-Saturday uptick of 44%, likely driven by positive word of mouth, and scored a fine per-screen average of $5,550, especially given the film’s wider-than-usual berth.

The frame’s top holdovers, led by Universal’s “Hop” (with an estimated $11.2 million for a cume of $82.6 million), also helped contribute to a better B.O. state this weekend. “Hop” dropped just 47% in its third outing, even though “Rio” drew most of the family market.

Sony’s faith-based sports drama “Soul Surfer” and kid-assassin thriller “Hanna,” from Focus Features, held on nicely in their second frames, down a mere 30% and 41%, respectively. “Soul Surfer” took in an additional estimated $7.4 million, while “Hanna” collected $7.3 million. If business for either film remains strong through Sunday, weekend estimates could go up slightly. “Soul Surfer” so far has totaled nearly $20 million; “Hanna,” $23.3 million.

Spreading demo wealth

Budgeted for a reported $90 million, “Rio” played well with all demos, namely families, but saw a slight preference among women, with 53%. The film also opened strong with Hispanic auds, a demo known for driving animated grosses.

“Scream,” on the other hand, was lighter on the femme side, with just 52%. That’s somewhat surprising when considering horror pics typically see female turnout ranging from 60%-70% of opening weekend. Pic’s over-25 dominance also was atypical, but the restrictive R rating would have deterred some younger moviegoers. Erik Lomis, prexy of theatrical distribution at Weinstein Co., said the older aud “proves that we had a core fanbase that came out, but (the film) didn’t expand to the younger generation.”

Overall, “Scream” scored a fine B- CinemaScore rating, which should help with playability, while “Rio” did better with an A rating.

School holiday B.O. cash

Word of mouth is expected to keep mid-week figures higher than normal for “Rio” and “Scream 4.” Both pics, along with the frame’s top-performing holdovers, also will benefit from spring break in full swing this week, leading up to Easter weekend.

According to studio sources, 32% of students will be out of school starting today, with a sizeable contingency of parents taking the week off of work. That should bode best for “Rio,” along with similarly family-targeted “Hop,” though adult-skewing films like “Scream” and “Hanna” also will see increased traffic because of school vacations.

Some overseas tykes, particularly in the U.K. and Australia, already have been on vacation since last week, with other markets joining over the next few frames.

Fox’s early offshore bow for “Rio” was meant to capitalize on school breaks, which helped in Blighty where the toon had a 26% uptick during its second outing, with nearly $3 million. But “Rio” lost in U.K. standing to “Scream,” which bowed there in the No. 1 spot with an estimated $3.5 million. France tied as “Scream’s” top overseas market, while the territory contributed a chart-topping $4.7 million for “Rio.”

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